What makes us creative—and what kind of creative?

creative brain

Find your type

Creativity is hot in psychology research, and researchers are finding creative ways to explore it. They’ve shown that openness to experience is the key personality trait associated with creativity. But what does this mean?

There are many ways to be open to experience, wrote Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist who focuses on intelligence, creativity, and personality, in Scientific American. Maybe you’re intellectually curious, or have a wicked imagination. Perhaps you immerse yourself in complex problem solving. Or maybe you’re more interested in emotional experience.

Four types of openness

Openness to experience can be broken down into four types, which manifest creatively in different ways, according to Dr. Kaufman’s study in the Journal of Creative Behavior (2013). The research involved 146 high-achieving British students aged 16—18.

FIND YOUR CREATIVE TYPE

You score highly on IQ tests
Traditional measures of intelligence (i.e., IQ tests), including scores for verbal reasoning and working memory, reflect explicit cognitive ability. They don’t seem to represent particular personality types. Explicit cognitive ability is more relevant to creative achievement in the sciences than the arts.

You’re driven to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth
You goal-directed types tend to be industrious, assertive, and persevering. Those traits represent your intellectual engagement. Intellectual engagement is more relevant to creative achievement in the sciences than the arts. It seems a better predictor than explicit cognitive ability of scientific creative achievement.

Your decisions are based on emotions, gut feelings, and empathy 
You might be more volatile, compassionate, enthusiastic, assertive, and impulsive than the average dude. That’s affective engagement in action. Affective engagement is more relevant to creative achievement in the arts than the sciences. Actually, it might even be detrimental to scientific creativity. (Don’t let that make you drop physics. This is a generalization, and people are complicated.)

You’re into aesthetics, fantasy, art, and culture
Are you searching for beauty? Are you more compassionate, enthusiastic, assertive, and impulsive than most of us? Maybe also less industrious and orderly? That’s what aesthetic engagement looks like. This is more relevant to creative achievement in the arts than the sciences.