Creativity and Intelligence

Today, Kanye West (hopefully) releases his album “Jesus is King”. As I re-listened to his entire discography in order to prepare for what is essentially a Magnum Opus release, I wondered how intelligent Kanye West truly is. I found many news articles covering a video in which Kanye West says he got his results from Mensa and scored in the 98th percentile – an IQ of over 130. I also found a thread on the lyric website, Genius, where a few people debated over what his IQ is. What alarmed me was multiple people pointing out that IQ had nothing to do with creativity, which I knew to be untrue. Hence, the point of this post: to detail the evidence on creativity and intelligence.

Table of Contents:
1: How Intelligence Influences Creativity
2: Current Data on IQ and Creativity
3: Conclusions

1: How Intelligence Influences Creativity

It is true that intelligence is a term meant to mean logical ability, abstract problem solving, and general cognitive ability, dealing more with rationality than with creativity in more emotional tasks such as art and music. But, there are multiple links through which rational thinking ability can develop a more creative mindset.

To be creative, one must be able to create unique or satisfying things, despite the scenario. Creative people are hence able to adapt to given circumstances and create desirable products. This may link to intelligence; intelligence allows a person to retain enough information in a scenario in order to adapt and survive. For example, a genius who gets in trouble with the law may still have a much easier time finding a good job than an average-intelligence person who gets in trouble with the law. Creative people and intelligent people are both able to make themselves useful when the odds are against them.

Sternberg and Lubart (1995) argue there are three main areas which connect intelligence and creativity. The first is practical ability, which directly relates to the last paragraph. Additionally, it is pointed out that “it is very important for people who wish to have a creative impact to learn how to communicate their ideas effectively and how to persuade others of the value of their ideas” (Sternberg, 1998). Interestingly, the analytic part of intelligence, which deals more with rationality, is completely involved in creativity:

“This ability is required to judge the value of one’s own ideas and to decide which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing. Then, if a given idea is worth pursuing, analytical ability can further be used to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the idea and thereby to suggest ways in which the idea can be improved.”

(Sternberg, 1998)

Finally, there is synthetic ability. Synthetic ability is the ability to create ideas that are unique and high in quality. This involves many things. The most important is a “meta-component” which deals with straying from the crowd in assessing problems. Sternberg (1998) gives the example of someone who can not afford their current living situation. In this case, he argues ordinary people might pick to make more money whereas creative people would choose to lower their living costs. In many ways, creative people may be more likely to be contrarians.

A popular view in psychology is that people can be more left brained or right brained; the right brain deals more with analytical and methodical thinking, whereas the left brain deals more with creativity and artistry. A study by Dunson and Durante (2017) found this is inaccurate. Creative people had significantly more interconnectivity between the left and right sections of the brain. Much of this left-right creativity happened in the frontal area of the brain. They also find highly creative people have more white matter connections in their brains. A psychology study found that creative people tend to have more interconnectivity in three main regions of the brain. Higher activity in those areas was a strong predictor of creativity (Beaty et al. 2018). To think creatively, one would have to think outside the box (relation to adaptivity in creative people) which would entail higher brain interconnectivity.

Like creative people, intelligent people have more white matter connectivity in their brains. Through VBM, is has been shown that “positive correlations between intelligence and cortical thickness are located primarily in multiple association areas of frontal and temporal lobes” (Goriounova and Mansvelder, 2019). This connects to the former paragraph as the left-right interconnectivity found in creative people was primarily in the front of the brain. Posthuma et al. (2002) finds that there is a positive genetic association between white matter volume and general intelligence. Until adulthood, intelligence scores are fluid to some degree and change based on various circumstances. In a longitudinal study of 778 children, it was found that changes in intelligence over time were associated with changes in white matter volume (Muetzel et al., 2015). White matter and gray matter connectivity were found to be correlated with general intelligence in a study of 26 patients (Ohtani et al., 2014).

In conclusion, there are many reasons to believe intelligence could induce higher creativity. These include both theoretical and biological causes. Creative people and intelligent people both have high adaptivity, meaning both are able to adapt to their environments despite negative pressure. Creative people and intelligent people are both able to think outside the box; intelligence particularly influences creativity here as this requires problem solving ability. Rationality is a strong predictor of creativity as it allows one to adapt, as explained before. Finally, creative people and intelligent people both require and have high brain interconnectivity, meaning each may have similar brain processes.

2: Current Data on IQ and Creativity

In this section, I will detail the studies I currently know about concerning the link between IQ and creativity. I will explain the creativity measures used in the experiments as the concept of creativity has a very subjective aspect to it. What I would expect is there to be a positive manifold of scores on creative task measures towards some c creative factor that we do not know at the moment. Assuming this were to be true, it would not be disingenuous to use these possibly subjective tests of creativity, as long as I use multiple forms of them to show the additional positive manifold in correlations.

Earlier assessments of the IQ-Creativity relationship found relatively small correlations. Andrews (1930) only found a correlation of r=0.07. Getzels and Jackson (1962) in their very popular experiment of gifted students only found a correlation of r=0.26. There are various explanations for older, lower estimates. For example, Kaufman (2003) argues the creativity assessments are conducted in bland conditions comparable to that which IQ tests are taken in. This may suppress creativity of the more creative participants, evening out the scores across the groups tested. Additionally, as psychology has developed, measures of creativity have been reformed.

Preckel, Holling, and Wiese (2006) analyze the correlation of intelligence and creativity across gifted and non-gifted students primarily in the purpose of testing threshold theory. They used the BIS-HB test to measure creativity. Tests used for measuring creativity are generally based on psychological theories about creativity or what makes people more creative people, some of which is elaborated on in the first section. The test in question uses symbol completion, object designing, specific psychological traits, insight testing, and a “possible uses” test to measure creativity in students. When controlling for processing speed, the correlation between IQ scores and general creativity was r=0.54. This study found the correlation held across thresholds – the correlation did not differ when comparing gifted and non gifted students.

A study of 176 primarily British participants was conducted to see how controlling for personality variables may influence the correlation between intelligence and creativity as well as to see which personality traits correlate strongest with creativity. The study used four tests of creativity. The first was a “Divergent Thinking” (DT) test; for DT, participants were asked to list as many unusual uses as they could think of for a paperclip, a blanket, and a pencil case. The second was the “Biographical Inventory of Creative Behaviors” (BICB) test; the BICB was a relatively reliable test asking participants to list 34 activities they were actively involved in for the past year. The third was the “Self-Rating of Creativity” (SR) test; the SR simply had participants rate their creativity from 1-10. The results of the self-rating is actually reliable and positively correlates with creative outcomes (Batey, 2007). Finally, the study used the Baron-Welsh Art Scale (BWAS) test. This test, while abstract, has been verified as a legitimate and reliable measure of creativity. The test asks participants to say whether they “like” or “dislike” various abstract pieces of art. This indicates “a greater ability for symbolizations and substitution, named primary processes.” In this study, the correlation between intelligence and creativity was not statistically significant, while extraversion and openness were good predictors of DT and BICB performance (Furnham and Bachtiar, 2008).

Silvia (2008) argues low estimates of the IQ-Creativity correlation may be due to the usage of lower-order intelligence scores. In his study of 226 university students, he finds that lower-order cognitive factors had a modest relation to creativity but a higher-order intelligence factor extracted from those had a correlation of β = 0.43. This correlation was somewhat diminished by controlling for openness, but was still useful. The measure of creativity on this test was asking the participants to come up with creative uses for a brick and for a knife. The responses were rated by judges on a 1-5 scale.

Cropley (1965) tested 320 seventh graders on thirteen batteries, six of which dealt with “convergent thinking” (e.i. tests which require a “correct” answer and are non-creative in nature) and seven of which dealt with “divergent thinking” (allowing the participants to put forth their own answers, better measuring creativity). Prior to this study, it was argued that divergent thinking could be categorized into its own factor, similar to g, which may account for much of the variance in school achievement. Cropley found that the divergent thinking scores could be tracked to a general creative (c) factor, but they still had a stronger correlation with traditional intelligence test scores at r=0.514. This study not only shows a significant correlation between creativity and intelligence, but the strength and spread of the g factor.

Naderi and Abdullah (2010) test 153 Malaysian undergraduate students on various measures of creativity and on intelligence. The measures of creativity used were telling something about themselves, environmental sensitivity, initiative, intellectuality, self strength, individuality and artistry. They found intelligence accounted for 13.5 percent of the variance in creativity. Naderi (2010) used the same sample but different measures of creativity to find the relationship between creativity and IQ. This time, Naderi used the “What Kind of a Person Are You?” test, acceptance of authority, self confidence, inquisitiveness, awareness of others, and disciplined imagination as the measures of creativity. IQ explained 16.5 percent of the variance in creativity for these measures.

Kuncel and Hezlett (2010) wrote a very good paper dealing with major myths about intelligence. In this, they address the correlation between between creativity and intelligence and its importance toward work performance. They find a correlation of r=0.36.

Musical ability is well predicted by intelligence. Ross (1936) looks at over 1,500 individuals and finds pitch ability correlated with IQ at r=0.25, tonal rhythm ability correlated with IQ at r=0.26, and consonance ability correlated with IQ at r=0.21. Soleimanifar et al. (2016) conducted a study of 96 children and found that IQ influences musical processing and that intelligence correlates with multiple aspects of musical ability. The correlates can be viewed below:

Many attempts have been made to find a correlation between artistic ability and intelligence. Artistic ability may show some level of creativity. The Draw-A-Person IQ test already exists in which the participant is simply asked to draw a human being. Little is known about the reliability of this test, though. Imuta et al. (2013) only finds a correlation of 0.23 between the DAP and the Wechsler’s intelligence test. Similarly, Troncone (2014) finds a correlation of r^2=0.24 between the DAP and the Raven’s Progressive Color Matrices. Additionally, the DAP was inaccurate in measuring the intelligence of mentally retarded participants. Oakland and Dowling (1983) found differing results – the DAP moderately correlated with various measures of intelligence including the WISC-R. The DAP may not be a solid measure of artistic creativity though, because it pressures the participant to conform to a realistic art style.

Like the DAP data, a link between IQ and artistic ability is fairly messy. Tiebout and Meiser (1936) find that there is a strong, significant correlation between the two, using aesthetic appeal as a measure, until third grade, in which the correlation disappears. Bird (1932; [cited in Burkhart, 1958]) finds similar results; the correlation is r=0.51 until the third grade, in which it drops to r=0.14. This is found again with Hurlock and Thompson (1934) who look at over 2,000 drawings and finds that by third grade, the association between artistic ability and intelligence becomes insignificant. By high school, the correlation remained low (Burkhart, 1958).

Finally, higher IQ people may be expected to innovate more. Innovation in itself is a creative function of the brain. Squalli and Wilson (2014) uses state IQ estimates and innovation rates by state. They find that after controlling for various socioeconomic variables, IQ was a positive predictor of the amount of innovation a state creates. Overall, there are many way we can see a correlation between intelligence and creative ability.

3: Conclusions

Overall, a large body of evidence exists to show that creativity is moderately to strongly associated with higher intelligence. In addition, we can learn from this that intelligence is more than numbers and serious reasoning ability. Intelligence primarily concerns the ability to adapt to scenarios and think in a way that allows one to take hold of any given situation. The same goes for creativity, making the two traits so compatible.

The evidence above suggests intelligence allows one greater success in the arts, primarily in music, in addition to the sciences. This would explain some of the greater variance in outcomes among higher IQ people – the ability to do anything is truly broad. This post should stress the importance of intelligence above all else.


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