Monday, May 30, 2016

Enhancing Creativity VI

Preparing the mind for Creativity Enhancement
Watercolour and Photoshop™
©2014 Charlene Brown

Evangelia Chrysikou, our Psychology of Creativity instructor, reminded us frequently of Louis Pasteur’s declaration that ‘chance favours the prepared mind,’ and encouraged us to hold this thought while considering the myriad ways of enhancing creative thinking and creative ways of doing things.

Group brainstorming, for example, is only likely to be productive after participants have done some preparation in the form of individual study and solution-finding.  Similarly, the observation, presented earlier, of benefit being derived from an incubation period only after an initial period of concentration on a problem or project, illustrates the importance of preparedness.

Other ways to ‘prepare the mind’ are: 
·       Challenge yourself, by seeking activities outside your field of expertise.
·       Travel to a foreign country
·       Take a class. Like Psychology of Creativity.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Enhancing Creativity V

Visualization techniques
©1993 Charlene Brown

Research* has shown that episodic specificity induction – training in recollecting details of past experiences – improves performance on memory and imagination tasks and enhances divergent thinking. The ability to recall detail can be increased by forming a mental image –visualizing – a past or historical event.

Do exercises in episodic memory improvement through visualization always enhance creativity, or are creative people better – less restrained – at visualization and more inclined to do it well?

This painting is an exercise in historic visualization using umm al nar tomb carvings  with an overlaying technique I learned in a workshop with American painter, Douglas WaltonOverlaying, or superimposing, one image on another adds a new dimension to a painting and produces wonderfully evocative results. It also provides virtually limitless possibilities for adding great-looking bits of information and detail to a painting.

*Creativity and Memory: Effects of an Episodic-Specificity Induction on Divergent Thinking. Madore KP, Addis DR, Schacter DL

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Enhancing Creativity IV

Psychological distancing in Kyrgyzstan
Computer montage
©2010 Charlene Brown, characters by Philip Hogg 

Applying psychological distance means thinking of a problem as being far away geographically and/or in the future… Is this why we produce those high-flying, all-powerful ‘To Do Tomorrow’ lists at the end of the day?  

This technique makes people approach a problem or project in more abstract terms and has been shown to facilitate a more creative, less inhibited, approach. Seeing a problem from another person’s perspective may achieve psychological distance. Thinking of a problem situation as if it were unreal and unlikely can yield a ‘hypothetical’ answer. Or a graphic novel

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enhancing Creativity III

Incubating an idea
Watercolour and crayon
©2016 Charlene Brown

Another creativity-enhancing technique involves taking a break from solving a problem and doing something else. It is important that this break takes place after giving the problem some thought, so that the break provides an incubation period for any ideas you may have begun to form.

I should mention right now that the ‘break’ pictured here at the top of the Sea-to-Sky Gondola took place during our annual Mothers Day weekend in Squamish.  I had not given any thought at all to the ‘problem’ of taking an online Psychology of Creativity course which was to begin the day after Mothers Day, and thus had no preparatory ideas to incubate. Anyway, misleading painting title aside, when we returned home Sunday night, I found a lot of preliminary reading and a long interactive lesson module in my email Inbox. Long story short, I got through it in time for the first 10 am live computer session Monday morning – even after the belated discovery that it was 10 am Eastern time (7 am Pacific) but I digress. Back to the concept of incubating an idea...

A nap that achieves REM sleep provides the ideal ‘incubation’ period. If the schedule can’t include this, similar benefits can be achieved by doing some mind-numbing (and mind-wandering-inducing) task during the break. This has been tested in a controlled laboratory setting with boring computer tasks (like hitting the space bar whenever a letter other than E appears on your screen) but most of us have noticed that boring jobs encourage daydreaming. Isn’t it great that scientists have shown this is a good thing!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Enhancing Creativity II

Cognitive flexibility in Tunisia
©2006 Charlene Brown

In addition to idea generation, true creativity involves evaluating your options. A study* was designed to distinguish between the generative and evaluative components and measure them separately. Students from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver were asked to design illustrations for book covers on an fMRI-compatible drawing tablet while inside a brain scanner. The students were asked to come up with ideas for their sketches for 30 seconds and then spend 20 seconds evaluating what they had sketched.

Activity in various areas of the brain was measured throughout the exercise. The results supported the hypothesis that the posterior (temporal and occipital) lobes of the brain are more associated with generative thinking and the prefrontal cortex is more associated with evaluative thinking. It also appeared that creativity involves a rapid shifting between these two processes, supported by highly connected anterior-posterior networks, cognitive flexibility. 

Other researchers have developed mental exercises that could stimulate this cognitive flexibility – including performing common tasks in an unconventional manner. The example given in the reading that we downloaded for the course involved following an unconventional sequence of steps to produce a sandwich…

That’s why I chose the painting of Monastir, Tunisia to illustrate this point. It was compiled from two photos taken from the fort in the centre of the picture. The first, looking north, was reversed so that the painting appears to be the view from the far distance, beyond the Bourghiba Mausoleum looking south toward the fort.  I often rearrange the components of a landscape to improve the composition of a painting, but a complete reversal like this is unusual. Perhaps I’ll try it more often.

Ellamil, M., et al., Evaluative and generative modes of thought during the creative process, NeuroImage (2011), doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.008

Friday, May 20, 2016

Enhancing Creativity I

Lowering cognitive control
Computer drawing

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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An approach to studying creativity that I’d never heard of… Had you?

Alexandria Serapeum
Computer painting
©2013 Charlene Brown

Before I talk about research on Enhancing Creativity, I’d like to mention a creativity research methodology, Historiometry, that I hadn’t heard of prior to taking the Scientific American/NYU course last week. As I’m talking about historical data here, I’m using an illustration from the ‘History of breakthroughs in the arts andsciences’ from The Fine Art of Physics, to illustrate the post.

Historiometry is a quantitative method of statistical analysis using retrospective data and historical information. It has been used by D.K. Simonton to examine different hypotheses about the creative process.
Psychometric data about creative individuals (skils and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, educational achievement, as well as creative precociousness and productivity) is derived from biographical references. This is quantified and analyzed in terms of available information about the individuals’ environments – role model availability, geographical marginality, economic or military/political circumstances during their particular period in history – to determine the impact of these creative individuals on technology, science and the arts.

I am interested in finding out how some of the more esoteric qualitative variables are quantified, having had to find ways to quantify the ‘value’ of qualitative variables encountered in fundamental (as opposed to productivity- related) research at Agriculture Canada when I was a program evaluator there many years ago.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Psychology of Creativity: NYU/Scientific American online course

Evening in New York
Watercolour, crayon and marker
©2014 Charlene Brown

I didn’t have time to paint last week because I spent all my time on my online Psychology of Creativity course, and I’m using this painting because the course is part of the Active Learning program at NYU School of Engineering. I did not in fact go to New York.

Our instructor was Evangelia G. Chrysikou, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, where she teaches cognitive neuroscience and creative cognition.

She began by explaining some terms related to creativity and the scientific study of creative processes. Five interactive study modules and reading lists were assigned, and each was followed by a live Q&A session (I typed my questions in, as I seem to suffer from Skype-fright).

We covered some of the key findings from research on brain mechanisms associated with creative thought, as well as neurophysiological and behavioral techniques that have been shown to enhance creativity. The neurophysiological (aka Don’t Try This at Home, Kids) methods we learned about, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Direct Current Stimulation are quite fascinating, but I will limit my blog posts to the behavioral techniques for enhancing creativity that were covered.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Found' Haiku

St. John’s Harbour (again)
Watercolour and Photoshop™
©2016 Charlene Brown

You can find poetry in newspapers and on-line news feeds almost every day! I first read about graphene capacitors in an Upworthy article on ‘solar power without sunlight’  and after looking up a few of the terms in the article, decided to add this idea to my haiku-generating computer program 

A quick review, the haiku poems (actually, haiku-like non sequiturs) my program writes consist of three lines, containing:
a clean energy-related concept (5 syllables)
a tangentially related environmental or economic concept (7)
a transformation (5)
The article on solar power without sunlight yielded the following five and seven syllable phrases:
            layer of grapheme
            graphene fake capacitor

I haven’t had time to paint a picture this week as I’m doing an NYU/Scientific American online course on The Psychology of Creativity.  So I’ve turned a previously-posted painting into a computer-stylized haiga to illustrate my ‘found’ haiku. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Virtual Paintout in Maine

Acadia National Park
Watercolour and crayon
©2016 Charlene Brown

The Virtual Paintout is in the state of Maine along Route #1 between Rockland and Milbridge this month.  

We had to find a Streetview south of the highway, much of which is quite close to the ocean. The most scenic stretches have hiking trails beside the road, and there are hikers everywhere – particularly near the trailheads along the cliffs above this beach.  

And, like the hikers, in addition to taking this spectacular Streetview, the Google camera went right down to the beach and into the creek!