top of page

Basics of creativity in 4 questions and answers

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

What is creativity?

Let's get to the heart of the matter with a riddle. Find the logical continuation of this combination of numbers. Answer at the end of the article. ;)

Enigm of creativity

This problem is a perfect illustration of our ability to be creative when faced with a problem. First of all, it is essential to dissociate the concept of "art" from the concept of "creativity" because creativity meets a general definition that applies to many fields. Indeed, creativity is defined as the ability to produce work that is both original (new, unusual, unexpected) and qualitative (useful, good, suitable) (1,2). Therefore, being creative does not mean being an artist but means being good at problem-solving by being able to think differently for a particular context.

What are the origins of creativity?

This question raises further questions: When did creativity first appear? Have we always been creative?

The origins of creativity

Image 1: Historical frieze retracing the origin of creativity

The oldest archaeological traces show a beginning of creativity -3.4 million years ago (animal bones with traces of slaughter from Dikika, Ethiopia). The traces turned out to be more evocative -1.76 million years ago after finding stone tools cut on two faces (“Biface”) in Kenya. However, within this historical timeline, the best example of creative ability is dating back to 77,000 years ago. Indeed, archaeologists found remains of “insecticidal bedding” in South Africa: “beds” covered with a thin layer of leaves which come from a particular tree (species ‘Cryptocarya woodii’) known to be composed of insecticidal chemicals effective against mosquitoes (3,4). From -3.4 million years ago until today with the creation of humanoid robots (“Sophia”), we have demonstrated an amazing ability to invent and solve problems. After the advent of language, creativity is certainly one of the most powerful levers that have participated in the evolution of our species.

How can we assess creativity in cognitive science?

The two main processes of creativity assessment are based on divergent thinking and associative thinking.

Divergent thinking was mentioned by Guilford, a former psychologist and professor of psychology. Divergent thinking defines the ability to generate multiple solutions to an open problem during a defined period of time. The exploration of several solutions around this problem leads to a multidirectional research where the result is a set of alternative solutions. The result is an organized sequence of words representative of a concept or element. Let's illustrate this concept with a simple task of finding different uses for a particular object. Imagine we have to find different uses of the object “Brick” (in addition to the basic function of construction): we can generate different solutions such as using a brick as a weapon or as a wedge. In this example, the goal of the divergent thinking process is to find as many uses as possible for this brick in a limited time. Then, we can engage a "convergent thinking" process in order to select one of our solutions (see image 2).

Convergent thinking explained

Image 2: Representation of the concept of divergent thinking.

The second process of creativity assessment is associative thinking, described by the psychologist Mednick (2). Associative thinking is the ability to link elements whose semantic concepts are distant. The further these elements have a long semantic distance, the more creative we are. For example, associating the word “Basket” with the word “Table” is more creative than associating the word “Chair” with the word “Table” because the semantic distance of the words "Table / Basket" is longer than that of the words " Table chair".

Making creative associations means forgetting links with high semantic forces in order to find more original associations. Please note that these associations must meet the requirements of a context and/or be useful. In other words, to associate the word "Dream" with the word "Table" does not make any sense.

Associative thinking explained

Image 3: Representation of associative thinking concept.

Thus, many research tests are based on divergent thinking and associative thinking to assess the creative capacity of people. However, since creativity is a complex process, we have to keep in mind that a complete assessment of creativity requires the use of several theories.

How can we see the creative process in our brain ?

There are many regions involved in creativity (6). This can be explained by the fact that being creative requires good memory, good cognitive flexibility, good synthesis skills, and other major cognitive functions (see my article for more information). But in the brain, regions communicate with each other. This interaction materializes "neural networks", namely, sets of regions that are activated simultaneously. Therefore, understanding creativity means understanding what kind of neural networks are involved in this process.

To identify these networks, we have to distinguish “creative” brains from “non-creative” brains. The work of E. Beaty and his colleagues(6) illustrates it perfectly. Thanks to a classic divergent thinking task combined with a brain imaging method (fMRI - or functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), two types of brain architectures have been identified: high creative networks and low creative networks. Based on this dissociation, 224 nodes (or specific regions in the brain) were positively correlated with creativity demonstrating that creative brains exhibit dense connections primarily in the frontal and parietal regions. More precisely, the “default mode” network (temporal, prefrontal, parietal and limbic lobe cortex), the “salience” network (insular and dorsal cortex), and the “frontoparietal” networks (frontal and parietal cortex) have been identified as involved in the creative process.

As written in my first article on creativity:

Thus, creativity is distributed in the brain and takes the form of neural networks. So I ask you to forget the following sentence: the right hemisphere is responsible for creativity.
Brain networks of creativity

Image 4: Result of the work of E.Beaty et al. - Identification of creative/low creative networks (6).

Thanks for following this article on creativity! I will soon publish an upcoming article on creativity regarding neuroeducation and the influence of the environment on our creative potential.

NB: During my creativity workshops, I explore many creativity tests to help you generate more relevant ideas. Do not hesitate to inquire in the section of my site provided for this purpose.


  1. Dietrich A. (2004). « The cognitive neuroscience of creativity ». Psychon. Bull. Rev. 11, 1011–1026.

  2. Mednick S. A. « The associative basis of the creative process ». Psychol. Rev. 69, 220–232 (1962).

  3. Les origines de la créativité, Heather Pringle - Pour la science numéro 427, avril 2013


  5. Beaty, Roger E., Yoed N. Kenett, Alexander P. Christensen, Monica D. Rosenberg, Mathias Benedek, Qunlin Chen, Andreas Fink, et al. “Robust Prediction of Individual Creative Ability from Brain Functional Connectivity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 5 (January 30, 2018): 1087–92.

  6. Gonen-Yaacovi, G., De Souza, L. C., Levy, R., Urbanski, M., Josse, G., and Volle, E. (2013). Rostral and caudal prefrontal contribution to creativity: a meta-analysis of functional imaging data. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:465. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00465

  7. Par exemple, sur la première ligne il y a “deux 1”, donc la réponse d la deuxième ligne est “21”. La deuxième ligne est composée d”un 2 et d’un 1”. La troisième ligne s’écrira donc “1211”. Ainsi, avec cette logique, on arrive à la réponse finale qui est “31131211131221 “.

Answer to the riddle of the sequence of numbers: 31131211131221.

The logic behind that: Contrary to what we think, this is not mathematical logic. Using multiplications, additions or square roots will not allow you to answer this riddle. This is an "oral" problem; That is to say that we indicate on the next line the number of digits that we perceive on the current line. For example, on the first line, there are “two 1”, so the answer on the second line is “21”. The second line is made up of a 2 and a 1 ”. Therefore, the third line will be written "1211". So, with this logic, we arrive at the final answer which is

“31131211131221 “.

42 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page