Creativity and Motivation

Are Creativity and Intelligence Related?


For many years, the notion of creativity was indistinguishable from views of intelligence. Sir Francis Galton (1887), one of the first to examine intelligence in-depth, based his observation of intellectual differences on grades (marks) earned by men at Cambridge or on the “eminence” men attained in a chosen profession. He suggested that intelligence was inherited and measurable with certain tests.

In the early twentieth century, Alfred Binet developed a test designed to measure intelligence by performance on a series of tasks. Lewis Terman, of Stanford University, later standardized Binet’s original test with American participants, and the Stanford-Binet became the standard measure of intelligence in the United States.

Over time, traditional notions of intelligence began to change, albeit slowly. In 1950, J.P. Guilford questioned the idea of intelligence as scores on an IQ test. In his presidential address to the American Psychological Association (APA), Guilford (1950) expressed doubt that intelligence tests could adequately measure creativity, suggesting that “creativity and creative productivity extend well beyond the domain of intelligence” (p. 445). Instead, he proposed that intelligence be considered a construct of multiple factors, including creativity. Furthermore, he differentiated between creative potential and creative production, linking creative production to personality traits such as motivation. “Whether or not the individual who has the requisite [creative] abilities will actually produce results of a creative nature will depend upon his motivational and temperamental traits” (p. 444). He further urged fellow psychologists to research the creative potential found in children and ways to promote that potential (Guilford, 1950).

Differences in intelligence and creativity were noted by Getzels and Jackson (1962) in a study of students from a private school in Chicago. Although the average IQ score was well above average, students with the highest IQ scores fell below the top 20% in their total scores of divergent thinking skills, and students with the highest divergent thinking scores were below the top 20% in IQ scores. There appeared to be no overlap in the highest IQ or divergent thinking scores. Achievement scores for the groups were comparable, despite a 23 point difference in IQ score between the high IQ/lower divergent thinking and the lower IQ/high divergent thinking groups.

Wallach and Kogan (1965) expressed doubts about the methodology used by previous researchers, including Getzels and Jackson, to distinguish intelligence from creativity. Arguing that measures of creativity had more in common with measures of intelligence than with each other, Wallach and Kogan (1965) suggested that the administration of timed paper-and-pencil tests in large groups might not accurately reflect creative potential. They found that presenting divergent thinking tasks as play, in a one-on-one setting with an adult who had previously established a relationship with the child, resulted in creativity scores that were not only highly correlated with each other but independent of intelligence scores.

The distinction between creativity and intelligence was again delineated by Joseph Renzulli (1978) in his Three-Ring conception of giftedness. He proposed a set of three intersecting traits: “above-average though not necessarily superior general intellectual ability, task commitment, and creativity” (p. 181). According to Renzulli (1978), interaction of the three components is necessary for creative accomplishment, with all components contributing equally.

Contemporary Definitions of Creativity

More contemporary definitions of creativity tend to focus on originality and usefulness. Amabile (1987) defines creativity as “a novel and appropriate solution [product or response] to an open-ended task” (p. 227). Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe (2005) view creativity as “an idea or product that is original, valued, and implemented” (p. 81). Prabhu, Sutton and Sauser (2008) offer a similar definition: “the generation of novel, original, and unique ideas concerning procedures and processes that can used at work and are appropriate and significant to the problem or opportunity presented” (p. 54). Torrance (1970) defines creativity as traits “which lead us to respond constructively to new situations, rather than merely to adapt or adjust…The true value of creativity is to be found in daily living, not just in the creation of new products” (p. 15). Creative needs include curiosity, the need to meet challenge and attempt difficult tasks, the need to become fully absorbed in a task, and the need for individuality.

Other researchers have examined creativity from a theoretical standpoint. Piirto (1992) identified a number of creative theorists, grouping them into categories based upon theories of creativity: philosophical, such as Csikszentmihalyi, Simonton, and Sternberg; psychological, such as Guilford, Getzels, and Renzulli; psychoanalytic, such as Jung and Freud, and domain-specific, such as Hofstadter.

Sternberg and Lubart (1992) suggest that creativity has been studied from two perspectives: internal (the process of an individual) and external (the interaction of an individual and context). Creativity is found along a continuum: when it is less contextualized, or internal, the focus is on the psychometric, or personality and process; when it is more contextualized, or external, the focus is on the social-psychological (Amabile), case-study (Gardner, Feldman), or historiometric (Simonton).

There are six personal traits essential for creativity: intelligence, knowledge, thinking styles, personality attributes, motivation, and environment. To be most effective, motivation should be task-oriented instead of goal-oriented, and intrinsic instead of extrinsic (Sternberg & Lubart, 1992). Amabile (1983) also lists three personal, or internal, components required for creativity: domain-relevant skills (factual knowledge and technical skills within the domain), creativity-relevant skills (conditional and procedural knowledge), and task motivation (attitudes and self-perception). People are most creative when they are motivated by a passionate interest (Amabile, 1987).

The influence of culture and context on creativity is emphasized by Csikszentmihalyi and Wolfe (2005), who point out that the cognitive process of creativity is “one that takes place in a context of previous cultural and social achievements, and is inseparable from them…Creativity is not produced by single individuals, but by a social system making judgments about individuals’ products” (p. 81-82). For example, creativity tests require participants to respond to divergent thinking tasks with products that are rated by experts on certain aspects of creativity (originality, fluency, flexibility). Since there is no objective measure of creativity, the product must be judged according to “the effect it is able to produce in others who are exposed to it” (p. 82).

Sternberg and Lubart (1992) also acknowledge the importance of context in the creative process: “To be creative is to invest one’s abilities and efforts in ideas that are novel and of high quality, and to be creative, one must, like any good investor, ‘buy low and sell high’” (p. 2). In other words, one must create an idea or product that is out of the ordinary, but with the potential to be widely accepted. As others adopt and adapt idea, the original creator moves on to new ideas (Sternberg & Lubart, 1992). A similar idea is proposed by Csikszentmihalyi & Wolfe (2005), who view creativity from a systems perspective; “variables external to the individual must be taken into account if one wishes to explain why, when, and where new products arise from and become established in a culture” (p. 82).

Cognitive, conative, and environmental factors interact to affect creativity, according to Lubart, Georgsdottir, and Besançon (2009). Cognitive factors include intellect, thinking (divergent, logical and analogical), and knowledge, including the “accumulated facts, theories, and personalized expertise that concern various content domains, but also an understanding of task-relevant constraints and other implicit parameters that play a role in problem solving” (p. 44). Conative factors include personality and affective traits: risk-taking, openness, tolerance of ambiguity, motivation, curiosity, and self-expression. Environmental factors include the physical and social environment, such as family and school, in particular a warm, supportive environment that encourages exploration, and socio-cultural influences, such as activities, and models.

What Is Motivation and How Does It Influence Creativity?

Motivation is a personal drive to accomplish, “the process of instigating and sustaining goal-directed behavior” (Schunk, p. 453). Motivational orientation is both a trait and a state, according to Amabile (1987). As a trait, motivation encompasses one’s innate like or dislike of certain activities, due to temperament, personality, and previous experiences; people tend to be more creative on things they enjoy. As a state, motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Traits tend to be relatively enduring, while states are influenced more by social environment. Intrinsic motivation is “the motivation to work on something primarily for its own sake, because it is enjoyable, satisfying, challenging, or otherwise captivating” (Amabile, 1987, p. 224), whereas extrinsic motivation is an external reward, “the motivation to work on something primarily because it is a means to an end” (Amabile, 1987, p. 224).

Motivation is extremely important in creativity because it drives an individual to persist at problem solving. “Creative potential is not fulfilled unless the individual (and his or her social support) is motivated to do so, and creative solutions are not found unless the individual is motivated to apply his or her skills” (Runco, 2005, p. 609). Prabhu et al. (2008) emphasize the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as mediators of the relationship between creativity and three personality traits: openness of experience, self-efficacy, and perseverance.

Effects of Reward on Motivation

Reward affects certain personal traits differently. The effect of reward on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is complicated and may vary under different circumstances, depending on one’s perception. An intrinsically motivated task can become extrinsically motivated if it is perceived as simply a means to obtain a reward or another end, or if it is presented as work rather than play (Amabile, Hennessey, & Grossman, 1986).

In a meta-analysis of 96 experimental studies measuring the effect of reward on intrinsic motivation, Cameron and Pierce (1994) found no consistent evidence that reward decreases intrinsic motivation; in fact, verbal praise appeared to increase intrinsic motivation. The only negative effect of reward was a slight decrease in time spent on a task after reward was given for participation. Eisenberger and Cameron (1996) found similar results in a meta-analysis of almost 100 studies from 1971-1991, controlled for effect and sample size.

However, other researchers have pointed out that motivation may be influenced by conditions other than reward. Social-cognitive factors such as competence and self-determination can increase or decrease motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). “Events that increase perception of competence or self-determination are assumed to enhance intrinsic motivation. Events that decrease perception of competence or self-determination will diminish intrinsic motivation” (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996, p. 1155). Intrinsic motivation may be reduced if a reward is given for participation in a task (performance-independent reward) or completion of a task (completion-dependent reward), as these types of rewards lessen self-determination. However, a reward given for meeting a predetermined standard of quality (quality-dependent reward) does not necessarily reduce intrinsic motivation; although self-determination may decrease, the perception of competence may increase at the same time.

Deci and Ryan (2008) suggest that the amount of motivation is less important than the type. Self-determination theory (SDT) distinguishes between two types of motivation, autonomous and controlled. “Autonomous motivation involves behaving with a full sense of volition and choice, whereas controlled motivation involves behaving with the experience of pressure and demand toward specific outcomes that comes from forces perceived to be external to the self” (Deci & Ryan, 2008, p. 14). SDT springs from the psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relating to others: when these needs are met, intrinsic motivation increases. Rewards or social climates may make people feel controlled and pressured, which lowers autonomy, thus reducing intrinsic motivation. In a supportive or informative climate, autonomy increases, as does intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

An integral part of SDT is organismic integration, a continuum of extrinsic motivation according to how fully it is integrated. The lowest level of integration is introjection: with an extrinsic constraint, people feel controlled and do not accept ownership of the behavior. In identification, people accept the responsibility of behavior as their own, even with an extrinsic constraint. Integration occurs when “extrinsically motivated behavior becomes truly autonomous or self-determined” (Deci & Ryan, 2008, p. 16). Integration differs from intrinsic motivation in the inherent enjoyment of and interest in the activity. How well an individual integrates the extrinsic constraint may determine the eventual effect of that constraint.

Effect of Reward on Creativity

There seems to be an inherent disagreement between behaviorally- and cognitively-oriented researchers on whether or not reward negatively influences creativity. Behaviorists perceive human behavior as a response to a stimulus (in this case, a reward). Therefore, the enticement of a reward should promote positive motivation and creativity (Eisenberger & Selbst, 1994). On the other hand, cognitive researchers point to the impact of social factors, in addition to reward, on creativity (Amabile, 1987). It is also possible that reward affects different types of problems in different ways. Amabile (1983) distinguishes between two different kinds of problems: algorithmic, or straightforward problems, with a single solution, such as arithmetic problems; and heuristic, or open-ended problems, with a number of solutions or no solution at all. Because of the differences in cognitive processing demands, reward may have a different impact on algorithmic problems than heuristic problems. Both behaviorists and social-cognitive theorists suggest that this is indeed what happens, although they tend to analyze tasks differently (Amabile, 1987; Eisenberger and Selbst, 1994).

Eisenberger and Selbst (1994) suggest that cognitive researchers who have found that reward decreases creativity “generally reward a low level of divergent thought, whereas behaviorists generally reward a high degree of divergent thought” (p. 1118). In a study examining the effects of reward on divergent thinking of young children, Eisenberger and Selbst (1994) found that a small reward for low divergent thinking produced a decrease in creativity, while a small reward for high divergent thinking produced an increase in creativity. A large reward eliminated differences in creativity between the two groups. A second study evaluated the creativity of children’s drawings, based on proximal or distal reward for high divergent thinking. Children under the large distal reward who were previously rewarded for a high degree of divergent thinking produced more creative drawings than those who had been rewarded for a low degree of divergent thinking.

Eisenberger and Shanock (2003) also found that “the effects of reward on creativity depend on the recipient’s construal of the task” (p. 127). Creativity increased when creative performance was rewarded and decreased when conventional performance was rewarded. “Reward for high performance increased intrinsic task interest via heightened perceived self-determination and competence, leading to greater creative performance” (p. 126). In other words, subjects learn what conditions are rewarded and utilize this knowledge in future activities. Eisenberger and Shanock (2003) believe that the increase in intrinsic motivation and creativity can be attributed to increased self-determination and perceived competence, consistent with self-determination theory (SDT).

Similar results were found by Eisenberger and Cameron (1996), who measured time spent on task after a reward.
They found that verbal rewards increased time, whereas the expectation of tangible rewards (specifically, performance-independent tangible rewards) decreased time. Verbal rewards enhanced attitudes and quality-dependent rewards increased interest, but other tangible rewards had no effect. The researchers questioned whether the decrease in intrinsic motivation found in some previous studies was a “temporary satiation or a negative contrast effect” (p. 1160), since most involved a single pairing of activity and reward.

These conclusions have been rejected by some cognitive-oriented researchers, who suggest that in general, intrinsic motivation enhances creativity and extrinsic motivation inhibits creativity (Amabile, 1987). Motivation and creativity are influenced not only by reward, but by social factors. These social factors do not occur in isolation, but in combination; the expectation of reward, self-esteem, and intrinsic motivation interact in an individual’s perception of the effect of a reward. This perception can be positive or negative.

Prabhu et al. (2008) found support for the negative influence of extrinsic motivation on creativity. Based on self-reporting inventories of 124 college students, researchers found that self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and openness to experience were strongly and positively related to creativity. Intrinsic motivation was also related to perseverance; however, perseverance did not appear to be correlated to creativity. Extrinsic motivation was negatively related to creativity, as was perseverance under high levels of extrinsic motivation, but not at low or mean levels.

In response to Eisenberger and Cameron’s 1996 study, Hennessey and Amabile (1998) counter that a simple behavior (time spent on task) rather than creative performance was used to measure the effect of reward. They argue that it is difficult to apply proposed explanations such as satiation and negative contrast to a task that is performed for a reward, when there is no prior experience with the task. “The most appropriate interpretation of Eisenberger and Cameron’s results is that they demonstrate increased divergent thinking under the expectation of reward for divergent thinking” (Hennessey & Amabile, 1998, p. 675).

Extrinsic constraints lower immediate as well as future performance and interest, according to Amabile et al. (1986). Three studies examined the effects of performing a task for reward as opposed to offering a reward as part of the actual activity. Participants ranged in age from early elementary students to adult women, and the various tasks included verbal, artistic, and problem-solving skills. Reward did not appear to inhibit creativity when it was offered as part of the activity, but did appear to inhibit creativity when viewed as means to an end. This finding demonstrated a negative effect of reward across different populations, rewards, and creativity tasks.

Social Factors Affecting Motivation and Creativity

Amabile (1987) identified six social factors that have the potential to strongly impact creativity: evaluation, surveillance, reward, competition, restriction of choice, and time pressures. The expectation of evaluation appears to have negative on creativity for adults and older students; it is not clear if the effect is the same for younger students. In one study by Amabile (1987) and colleagues, elementary students received feedback on an art task. In addition, some of the students were told that their performance would determine the experimenter’s job status, thereby raising the salience of the external constraint. Although there were no clear differences between groups, the performance of all groups was rated as less creative than that of a control group. Prior evaluation may impact creativity of young children more than the expectation of external evaluation.

Surveillance may also decrease creativity, whether or not there is an expectation of evaluation. Amabile (1987) found that subjects who believed they were being observed were less creative than those who were not aware of being observed. Those who were told they were being observed and that their product would be evaluated after completion produced the least creative products and reported higher levels of anxiety and distraction (Amabile, 1987).

Reward itself does not appear as influential as an individual’s perception of the task as means to an extrinsic end. In studies conducted by Amabile (1987), creativity appears to be highest among those in a no-choice reward condition, where reward is given regardless of performance on an assigned task; this orientation does not appear to increase extrinsic motivation. “Contracting to receive a salient reward for doing some activity, seeing oneself as doing the activity in order to obtain the reward, can decrease intrinsic motivation in the work itself and undermine the creativity of the outcome” (p. 242).

Competition may enhance creativity for some age groups while inhibiting creativity for others. Amabile (1987) conducted a study of business managers, educators, and researchers in problem-solving. Those in non-competitive situations performed more creatively and more accurately. The same results were found in a study of elementary students. Amabile (1987) suggests, however, that competition among teenagers may actually enhance creativity.

Free choice and “a sense of internal control and freedom” (Amabile, 1987, p. 244) appear to have a positive effect on creativity. Requiring workers or students to follow a certain path or recipe lowers creativity and motivation.
Amabile (1987) believes that time pressure may have more effect on creativity than any other constraint, although studies have not been conducted to show this. Deadlines may decrease creativity, while sufficient time tends to increase creativity.

The perception of competence and choice of behavior also influences one’s self-perception of motivation (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973). When we see someone performing a task, we infer that they are doing it without external reward if we don’t see reasons to attribute the performance to a reward. We tend to perceive our own actions and behaviors as driven by the same motivation or lack thereof. Intrinsic motivation for creativity may stem from observing others perform a similar task without reward. The observer thus perceives that his or her own performance of the task is also intrinsically motivated.

Amabile (1983) conducted a study designed to specifically manipulate intrinsic/extrinsic motivation. Writers answered questionnaires before composing a poem. Some participants received questionnaires designed to elicit an intrinsic orientation; others received questionnaires designed to elicit an extrinsic orientation; members of a control group received no questionnaire. The creativity of the poems of the control and intrinsic-orientation groups were judged to be comparable in creativity, however, the extrinsic group’s poems were less creative.

The perception of competence and choice of behavior also influences one’s self-perception of motivation. When we see someone performing a task, we infer that they are doing it without external reward if we don’t see reasons to attribute the performance to a reward. We tend to perceive our own actions and behaviors as driven by the same motivation or lack thereof. Intrinsic motivation for creativity may stem from observing others perform a similar task without reward; the observer thus perceives that his or her own performance of the task is also intrinsically motivated. The expectation of reward may cause the individual to attribute the behavior to the reward and discount intrinsic motivation (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996; Lepper, et al., 1973).

Overjustification and Immunization

“Overjustification” occurs when a person’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task is undermined by the inducement to engage in the task for an external reward. In this condition, receipt of an unexpected reward after performing a task should not inhibit creativity or motivation. Lepper et al. (1973) demonstrated this effect using young children who were intrinsically motivated to engage in a particular activity; some were induced to engage in the activity for a reward, others were asked engage in the same activity but were given the reward at the end. Young students who were initially highly motivated to utilize novel drawing materials were less motivated and less creative if they expected a reward after drawing. The educational setting of this study was particularly appropriate because students are often asked to engage in intrinsically motivating activities with the promise of reward (grades, gold stars, tokens, etc.). These rewards may actually decrease the intrinsic motivation that children initially have in learning if they attribute their behaviors to the reward instead of their own motivation.

Hennessey, Amabile, and Martinage (1989) investigated whether overjustification could be counteracted with training on the value of intrinsic motivation. Although previous studies had indicated that creativity generally decreases in a reward condition, the researchers wanted to demonstrate that creativity could be maintained when intrinsic motivation is maintained. One hundred thirteen elementary students received training in intrinsic motivation, or creativity, with a control group receiving neither. Students in the intrinsic motivation training group viewed a videotape showing two children talking with an adult about their enjoyment of and interest in schoolwork, and how they maintained that interest in learning even when a reward, such as good grades or praise was offered. Students also participated in directed discussion and follow-up exercises. Children in the other groups also watched videotapes and participated in discussions and follow-up exercises. Half of the students in each group were offered a reward for completing a storytelling task, and half were presented the reward as one in a series of tasks. Creativity of the resulting product was then assessed. Stories by the students in the reward/intrinsic motivation group were judged most creative, and those in the no-reward/intrinsic motivation group appeared least creative. Students who received intrinsic motivation training also scored significantly higher in motivation than the control groups. Students who received intrinsic motivation training appeared to perceive the reward as adding to their motivation.

Puzzled by the low creativity scores of children in the no-reward/intrinsic motivation group, Hennessey et al. (1989) conducted a second study to assess personality variables of initial motivation orientation and self-esteem. Creativity of students in the reward/intrinsic motivation training group was judged most creative, while that of no-reward/intrinsic motivation and reward/control groups were comparable. Interestingly, students who did not receive intrinsic motivation training also made significant gains in motivation scores.

In an attempt to replicate studies indicating that training can immunize students against the negative effects of reward on creativity, Gerrard, Poteat, and Ironsmith (1996) utilized a technique similar to that of Hennessey et al. (1989). After training in intrinsic motivation, students created a collage under a reward/no-reward condition. Since experts’ ratings did not meet the standard for reliability, 21 teachers were asked to rate the product. While experts rated the control training/no-reward group most creative, teachers rated the intrinsic motivation training/reward group most creative; both rated the control training/reward group least creative.

This effect of students being immunized to reward is known as motivational synergy, a condition where reward has “no impact or even a positive impact on intrinsic motivation and creativity” (Hennessey & Amabile, 1998, p. 675). Hennessey and Amabile (1998) offered motivational synergy as an explanation for the lack of inhibiting effect of reward in Eisenberger and Cameron’s (1996) study.

So How Does Reward Affect Motivation and Creativity?

It is clear from results of various studies that there is no simple answer to the effect of reward on intrinsic motivation and creativity. Nor is it clear what or how cognitive processes, temperament and personality traits, and social factors influence motivation. The interaction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and creativity may be more complex than the linear model proposed by most researchers. What is clear that more research needs to be conducted in real-world settings such as classrooms and industries to develop our understanding of the link between motivation and creativity.


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