Curiosity and Creativity: What makes some people more creative?

Are you a creative person? Maybe you have a natural talent and inclination for painting and drawing. Perhaps you are the go-to person at your job for discovering new innovative ways to accomplish a task or solve a problem. Or maybe you are really good at finding ways to effectively do common tasks. Creativity is often viewed as a linear, inherent trait, however, it is much more complex and intricate. 

Creativity, what is it?

We often associate creativity with the arts, whether that be music, painting, or sculpting. However, creativity is not isolated to the arts and is a broad term that encompasses many traits and attributes (Kim, 2019). In simple terms, creativity can be boiled down as having original ideas. A more general and widely accepted definition of creativity is the ability to formulate new and novel perspectives or ideas in order to fill an information gap or to solve a problem (Schutte & Malouff, 2020; Walia, 2019; Rahimi & Shute, n.d).

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Like any trait, creativity is quite complex and is filled with many defining characteristics. These characteristics vary from person to person, and can even be influenced by one’s culture (Kim, 2019). So while there are many individual differences to creativity, researchers have pinpointed a few defining elements (Walia, 2019; Rahimi & Shute, n.d).

1. Creativity recognizes an imbalance.

2. Creativity is both unique and applicable.

3. Creativity allows individuals to identify unique problems 

Although creativity is complex, it is an important skill to have in one’s work life and personal life. And while specific characteristics of creativity may vary, there are underlying elements that remain the same. Researcher Chetan Walia (2019) emphasizes these three components and sums it up as “the act of creativity leads to original ideas and generates possible options, but most importantly, it seeks to address disequilibrium in society.”

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The 6 hats of thinking

For years, researchers have explored different avenues to discover what influences and bolsters creativity. Originally formulated by physician and psychologist Edward de Bono (1992), the 6 hats of thinking concept has continued to be a prominent area of study for researchers such as Göçmen and Coşkun (2019). This concept proposes there are 6 different “hats” of thinking and each one influences creativity in a different way.

1. The yellow hat

2. The white hat

3. The black hat

4. The green hat

5. The blue hat

6. The red hat

It is important to note that some of these hats of thinking may be more related to creativity than others, most researchers agree that all of these hats influence creativity in some capacity. As mentioned previously, the green hat is most associated with creativity and idea formation. A study by Göçmen and Coşkun (2019), found that people who employed a green hat of thinking presented around 32% more deep ideas and solutions. They also found people who took on a more yellow hat of thinking conceived a higher number of unique ideas, around 29%. 

This concept of thinking hats may help you better understand the different ways of thinking and how they are related to creativity. Although some hats, such as the green hat, may have a more effective and direct relationship with creativity than other hats, such as the red hat, they all influence creativity. As discussed previously, one person may be more creative when they take on a black hat thinking style, while others may find creativity when they use a blue hat thinking style. This concept only brushes the surface of the frameworks and theories of creativity.

Specific curiosity and idea linking

The definition of creativity, as well as some concepts, have been discussed, however, what drives creativity has not. On a basic level, creativity is driven predominantly by enjoyment or self-expression (Benedek et a., 2020). However, there are other modern motivations that researchers have been examining in recent years.

One such motivation is specific curiosity. While the concept of specific curiosity has been around for decades, researchers such as Hagtvedt and colleagues (2019) have been reexamining it in relation to creativity. Specific curiosity is information seeking beyond what is needed. Have you ever had to write a paper for school and you looked up information about the topic(s) even after you completed the paper? Well, that is an example of specific curiosity. It drives us to seek out additional information for our own desires. Specific curiosity is essentially the act of “going the extra mile.”

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To measure the relationship between specific curiosity and creativity, Hagtvedt and colleagues (2019) recruited 89 participants and split them into either a control group or a curiosity group. Both groups read an article on Houdini’s Vanishing Elephant magic trick. Participants in the curiosity group were told that no one figured out how Houdini performed such a trick and were asked to write down how they thought the trick was performed. Regardless of the answer, participants were told their response was close, but not right. Those in the control group were simply given a description of how the trick was performed.

After reading the article and answering relevant questions, all participants were asked to make up ideas for magic tricks. This was done to measure participants’ creativity. At the end of the experiment, researchers discovered that participants in the curiosity group were on average, 34.5% more creative with their magic trick ideas. Due to having to use their curiosity and figure out how Houdini performed his famous magic trick, participants subsequently generated more creative ideas (Hagtvedt et al., 2019)

Oftentimes as kids, we get chastised for being too curious. After all, curiosity did kill the cat. However, researchers have been discovering that curiosity is such an influential driver behind creativity.  And although some may argue that specific curiosity could harm creativity by being too “narrow,” it can allow us to brainstorm and generate more creative ideas and solutions.

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Idea linking and creativity

Have you ever been told to “not reinvent the wheel” or “no reason fixing something that isn’t broken”? Well, that is the overarching message of idea linking. Idea linking involves using preexisting ideas as building blocks to create a new idea. The concept of idea linking is intertwined with specific curiosity (Hagtvedt et al., 2019).

Rather than copying the original idea or solution, idea linking promotes using the original idea as a foundation or inspiration for new ideas. In fact, many of the greatest inventions are the result of idea linking. When we see something that piques our curiosity, we often begin to imagine how it could be improved and changed to something different. For example, you made a batch of cookies and you like them, but they could be even better. You use the same cookie base and just make some adjustments and/or add some things in. That is the general idea of idea linking.

Although idea linking begins with using an idea or concept as a stepping stone, the end product is often far from the original idea. Think of idea linking like writing an essay. You begin with a topic, the original idea, and then you write up an outline. As you progress through the rough draft, you may add more sections or take sections out as you explore the nuances and different areas of the topic. You build upon each step, changing things as you grow more knowledgeable of the topic. In the end, your final paper is merely reminiscent of the original topic (Hagtvedt et al., 2019).

Some may argue that idea linking does not promote “true” creativity as you are taking one idea and improving upon it rather than starting from scratch. However, many preexisting things and ideas are what inspire us to be creative. It allows us to see what has already been done and lets us be creative in finding novel ways to improve upon it or change it. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, only the need to improve it. 

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Curious about your mind? Get creative with LIFE Intelligence. 

Looking to spark your curiosity and become creative? LIFE Intelligence has got you covered. LIFE Intelligence is a problem-solving app for your self, career, and relationship success. It’s packed with fascinating science from all areas of psychology and neuroscience. In it, you can discover the intricacies of your mind, emotions, self-awareness, decisions, and career and relationship goals. Whether you are curious about yourself and are looking for ways to grow your creative spirit or if you just need some time to process emotions, LIFE is equipped with science-based techniques to answer the burning questions of your curious mind.

Mason Low
March 24, 2021


Benedek, M., Bruckdorfer, R., & Jauk, E. (2020). Motives for creativity: Exploring the what and why of everyday creativity. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 54(3), 610-625.

De Bono, E. (1992). Six thinking hats for schools: Resource book for adult educators. Perfection learning.

Göçmen, Ö., & Coşkun, H. (2019). The effects of the six thinking hats and speed on creativity in brainstorming. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 31, 284–295.

Hagtvedt, L. P., Dossinger, K., Harrison, S. H., & Huang, L. (2019). Curiosity made the cat more creative: Specific curiosity as a driver of creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 150, 1-13.

Kim, K. H. (2019). Demystifying Creativity: What Creativity Isn’t and Is? Roeper Review, 41(2), 119-128.

Rahimi, S., & Shute, V. J. (n.d). The effects of video games on creativity: A systematic review. Handbook of Lifespan Development of Creativity, 1-37.

Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2020). Connections between curiosity, flow and creativity. Personality and Individual Differences, 152, 109555.

Walia, C. (2019). A dynamic definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 31(3), 237-247.

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