Psychology of Creativity

By Heather Snyder, Ph.D.

Creativity is defined as “the interaction among aptitude, process and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context.” (italics in original; Plucker, Beghetto, & Dow, 2004, p. 90). Researchers often focus on one of the four P’s: person, process, press, and product (Rhodes, 1961; see also Sawyer, 2012). The study of the creative person includes personality traits, development, motivation, neuroscience, and biology. The study of the creative process includes the steps creators follow in their work. The study of the creative press includes the home, school, and work environments. The study of the creative product includes determining whether and how a product is creative.

How does this definition apply in real life? A personal example: when our art supplies needed a home (the floor was not working), we had to figure out what we could use that we already had because there was no money for new furniture. I realized that the old sideboard/buffet table would work nicely. The paintbrushes, charcoal, pens, erasers, and artist knives were neatly organized in the silverware compartments. The papers fit in the large plate drawer and the paints fit in a separate drawer. Was this a creative solution to a common problem? The standard criteria for a creative product (Stein, 1953) as identified in the above definition includes: (1) novelty or originality and (2) usefulness or appropriateness (see Runco & Jaeger, 2012 for a discussion of the history of this definition). This definition includes all levels of creativity, which differ on the criterion of novelty (see Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009 for their discussion of the 4Cs). Little-c (everyday) creativity includes a solution that is new to the person but is not new to others. Big-C (genius) creativity includes a solution that is new to others and changes the domain. Therefore, although any search of a DIY or home and garden website would show that repurposing furniture has been done many times, the above example was new to me, which illustrates little-c creativity. However, just because something is new, doesn’t mean it is creative. It must also be useful or appropriate for the problem. For example, if my solution to the problem of art supplies on the floor was to duct tape them to the ceiling, the solution would certainly be original, but not very useful.

Creativity can be measured in a multitude of ways, but generally these measurements fall into 4 categories (see Kaufman, Plucker, and Baer, 2008; Plucker & Makel, 2010 for reviews):

  • Psychometric measures include (1) divergent thinking tests that require multiple responses to a prompt, such as Guilford’s Structure of Intellect Divergent Thinking Battery (1967) and Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, and (2) convergent thinking tests that require finding one best solution to a problem, such as insight problems.
  • Consensual Assessment Technique (Amabile, 1996) involves the completion of products and multiple expert judge ratings or rankings of the products.
  • Assessment by others includes teacher, parent, or other ratings of a person’s creativity.
  • Self-assessment includes completion of personality measures, creative behavior inventories, creativity styles, measures of creative self-efficacy and creative personal identity, and self-ratings of creativity.


Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to “the social psychology of creativity.” Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R. A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The four c model of creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13, 1-12.

Kaufman, J. C., Plucker, J. A., & Baer, J. (2008). Essentials of creativity assessment. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Plucker, J. A., Beghetto, R. A., & Dow, G. T. (2004). Why isn’t creativity more important to educational psychologists? Potentials, pitfalls, and future directions in creativity research. Educational Psychologist, 39, 83-96.

Plucker, J. A., & Makel, M. C. (2010). Assessment of creativity. In J.C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 48-73). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Rhodes, J. (1961). Analysis of creativity. Phi Delta Kappan, 42, 305-310.

Runco, M. A., & Jaeger, G. J. (2012). The standard definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 24, 92-96.

Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Stein, M. I. (1953). Creativity and culture. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 36, 311-322.