4.8 Creativity & Aging: Definition & Changes with Age

Jan 13, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch4 Problem Solving & Creativity in Psychology

In this lesson we will explore what creativity is, how one can go about measuring it and what leads to one being creative. In addition, we’ll look at how creativity changes with age.


I like to think of myself as a creative person. I like imagining what could have been, what might be or how things could have gone differently. When I read books, I wonder what I would have done in the same situation. Also, the dungeons and dragons stuff, too. Yeah, I’m a nerd, but I’m a creative nerd!

Creativity is an ability to think of new ideas or make new things. I need to make sure that this is not confused with productivity, which is an ability to think of additional ideas or make more of something. These are very similar but strikingly different. Creativity is making something that has never been made before or connecting things in a new or novel way. Productivity can include some creative elements or changing some things about, but creativity doesn’t necessarily mean productivity. Looking at you, artistic people!

As we age and change throughout our life, the things we focus on in life change as well. Things we were passionate about in our youth we don’t care about now. Things will be forgotten in the future. As we age, changes also occur to our creativity, things beyond focus and effort.

Measures of Creativity

Before knowing how something changes over a lifetime, we need to be able to measure it. Makes a certain kind of sense, wouldn’t you agree?

However, unlike measuring abilities or intelligence, creativity is literally measuring what has not been thought before. What does that mean? Let me explain this in a more video gamey kind of way. Let’s say your character is learning how to do something, like shoot a gun or do math. As you do more of it, you accrue more experience and abilities. We can compare your skills to what is possible and known. Measuring creativity is measuring what is unknown, what has not been done before. It is measuring the unknowable.

When assessing for creativity, a set system is basically impossible to have. You cannot measure someone’s creativity based on hard and fast measures. It’s not a skill, like math. But it is possible to measure it by a more subjective, or qualitative, approach. Some questions of measuring creativity include:

  • First, is there a physical product to measure? I can’t measure how creative your thinking is unless I have it on a paper or have something to look at. I will be saying product as a short hand, but it could be anything from an actual object to a theoretical formula.
  • Next, is the product new, original or unexpected? This may require some serious thought and examination of what is already out there.
  • Is the new product effective? Anyone can string together letters or cobble together a wooden thing, but is the product effective at what it does? Is the formula accurate? Does the art piece inspire people?
  • When looking at the final product, did the product require elaboration and reformulation? If a product required extensive changes and constant checking back, then it could be argued that it was not a creative endeavor but one more of productivity.

Now that we have a good idea of how to assess for creativity, let’s look at how creativity changes over time.

Features of Creativity

To be creative, you need to have a few things present. First, a creative person needs to have an understanding of their medium. This requires either a lot of experience in doing something, like math or shooting a gun, or an innate understanding of something, like painters and emotion.

Next, a person needs distance or a lack of concern from critics and social constraints. With creativity, you cannot be bound by petty critics or how people have done things in the past. Lastly, a broadened awareness is something that allows a creative person to take in a lot more information from other sources and use distracted ideas to integrate into creative pieces.

We have experience, not caring what others think and awareness of things that others might not perceive. Interestingly enough, the people who have been found to be most creative and to fit these criteria are older individuals. They have more experience and a lifetime of learning behind them. They have been found to care less about what others think of them, as you probably guess when they wear sandals and socks together.

And when it comes to their awareness, it seems that they have a broadened type of focus, making them more prone to take in additional information. With extra information, additional connections can be made. This is then fed into the creative brain machine, and out pops something that is wholly new.

Creativity and Aging

As we talked about, elderly people are likely to possess a lot more features that are necessary for a person to be creative. But what about people who are in their 20s and 30s? Can they look forward to becoming more creative?

The answer is, ‘It depends.’ The human brain is able to learn and take in new information, but it is also capable of languishing and doing mind-numbing things as well. Let’s look at two people who are getting older. The first is Chris, who attends college and graduate school and goes on to be a prolific reader, writer and thinker.

If Chris was not very imaginative in his youth, if he continues to push his mind, he will expand his awareness and become more creative. His memories will connect themselves in unique ways, and he will be able to think of new things because he will have seen what has and has not been done before. Chris may even be able to be creative in ways that he had trouble with when he was younger. That gives me hope because I am terrible at jokes.

On the other hand, we have Tyler, who was very imaginative in his youth but took a soul-crushing job where he stares at a computer screen all day. He stopped keeping up with his creative outlets, like drawing and writing, and started focusing solely on work. While Tyler may become creative in other ways, like achieving new indexes or quantifying algorithms (in other words, technical ways that deal with his job), the creativity of his youth will slowly diminish because his brain isn’t making new connections. He isn’t learning more, and without that, there is little to think about.

Tyler is kind of an extreme example, but what we can see from the features and from these examples is that as we age, if we continue to learn and expand our mind, we will continue to be creative. This is the opposite of many assumptions about aging being entirely negative and a decline in all abilities.

Lesson Summary

Creativity is an ability to think of new ideas or make new things. It is different than mere productivity, which is an ability to think of additional ideas or make more of something. To assess what creativity means is to examine the work that has been done, its effectiveness and the amount of times it has been redone. Creativity research has found that people need experience, a lack of concern for criticism and awareness to be creative. This typically means older individuals are more creative than younger people, as they meet most of the criteria.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define creativity in contrast to productivity
  • Describe how creativity may be measured
  • Recall the features that need to be present in order to have creativity and understand that older people are more likely to have these features
  • Explain how creativity can increase or decrease with age
4.9 What are the Habits of the Mind?
4.7 The Brain & Problem Solving: Areas & Process