Introduction

In the previous chapter, we looked at relatively mundane forms of thinking, in our examination of problem solving in puzzles, insight problems, and expertise. In this chapter, we explore creative thinking. Creativity is hard to define but roughly speaking it concerns the production of novel ideas that are in some sense useful or an advance beyond previous conceptions. According to one view, creativity is distinguished from other forms of thinking by being less mundane and more exceptional. Is this an accurate view?

The traditional view has been that there are a small number of "great" individuals who are responsible for what we call "creative thoughts"; these are people of talent, the Einsteins and Mozarts of this world, who have intellectual abilities that stretch far beyond those of the mass of humanity (otherwise known as us). In contrast to this view, there is an emerging perspective that talent may be more a matter of hard work, that we are all a little bit creative, and that the cognitive processes used to produce Nobel prize ideas might not be radically different from those used to produce a joke over coffee (Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992; Holyoak & Thagard, 1995; Koestler, 1964; Weisberg, 1993). It is very much this latter perspective that will be unfolded in the following pages. Many of the processes we review—like mental simulation, analogy, and hypothesis testing —are quite mundane and unexceptional, although they may be used to produce creative products.

This chapter is divided into distinct parts. In the first two sections, we consider general perspectives on creativity and the issue of whether talent exists. We then review three cognitive processes that have been implicated in creativity; mental simulation using mental models, the use of analogy, and methods for hypothesis testing in scientific discovery. Finally, we evaluate the whole of problem-solving research as it has been reviewed in this and the previous chapter.

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