There is a moment in every adult’s life where they wish they were a child again. The appeal of childhood is strong, especially when facing the reality, and responsibilities, of being an adult. We try everything to avoid it, but age is inevitable. However, does growing older correlate with a decline in creativity? Or rather, does adulthood stifle the creative mind?
Building Blocks of Creativity
Researchers at The New York Times decided to experiment with this idea. They conducted various tests with children and adults and tried to evaluate their method of thinking. The participants ranged in age and were put into groups: ages 4-5, 6-11, 12-14 and adults.
The first experiment tested how creativity is utilized in the physical world.
Participants were given a machine with blocks of different shapes and sizes. When certain blocks and combinations of them were arranged, the machine would light up. With others, no light appeared. As expected, the majority of adults dealt with this in a pragmatic way. They tested each block to figure out which ones worked. Researchers found that the younger age groups, particularly the preschoolers, tried unusual combinations. As participants aged, they were less likely to spend time testing combinations just for fun, and instead opted to think more logically about how to make the machine light up.
The second experiment involved the social world.
Participants heard the story of Sally, who used a skateboard and Josie who avoided a scooter. When thinking about why this would happen, teenagers were the most creative in their explanations. They thought about the objects themselves, rather than attributing the behavior to character traits. While this does nothing for the theory of deterioration of creativity as we age, it speaks to how age groups may save their creativity for the realities that affect them. In our teens, social aspects of life take precedent over physical ones.
The Harsh Reality
So, it is not really a question of if creativity dies as we’re older. It all comes down to what we choose to attribute our creativity to, which is a result of our individual realities. Scientists break down thinking into two forms: exploration and exploitation.
In adolescence, exploration is necessary to learn about the world.
When dealing with an issue, youths may try new things in order to find out what works. Adults, who have explored the world to a certain degree, will use exploitation thinking to find a faster solution. It is a matter of knowledge gained, not creativity lost.
With age comes a changing world view, but luckily we can’t know everything. Unless you are set in your ways, there are always opportunities to be creative.