Lowering cognitive control
Research that our Psychology of Creativity instructor, Evangelia G. Chrysikou, has done indicates that techniques for boosting creative potential may involve breaking down established ways of viewing the world or invoking unconscious thought processes.
One of the techniques, the Alternative-Uses Task, encourages rethinking how people categorize objects by having them describe as many other uses for common objects as they can in a short time period. This helps overcome functional fixedness – the idea there is ‘one right way’ of doing something – and puts people in a more open state of mind for problem-solving.
In general, problems of functional fixedness can be overcome by lowering cognitive control, removing restriction on your thoughts and behavior. Another way of doing this is to describe something in terms of its generic features rather than its actual name or function, sometimes called generic parts technique.
I tried something like this, an elephant drawing competition, at my daughter‘s birthday party about forty years ago. Without ever mentioning that they were drawing an elephant, I gave the following instructions:
· Draw a circle in the upper left part of the paper
· Draw eight vertical parallel lines in the lower right part
· Add two short curved lines and one long curved line to the circle
· Draw a little circle and a big floppy circle on the first circle
· Draw an oval that touches the first circle and runs along the top of the parallel lines.
My favourite looked like the computer drawing, above, as I recall (remember that in the dark days before digital cameras, we didn’t take picture of everything we saw). It won for ‘best use of colour’ and did well in the ‘best legs’ category, but placed well down in the ‘looks like an elephant’ part of the competition. Perhaps if there had been a ‘looks like a moose’ category…
I will write five more blog posts about creativity-enhancing research as well as my take on how the theories can be applied by artists.