Adolescence is a time of great change, whether physical, psychological or emotional. But is it also synonymous with a loss of creativity? So suggests recent scientific research.
Experts from France and the United States have investigated the effects of age on creativity, to determine whether this quality develops with experience and age.
To do this, they assembled a panel of 180 participants, comprising 86 teenagers aged 11-18, 52 young adults (19-35), and 42 people aged 50-81. They asked them to take part in the “egg task”, an exercise that involves coming up with as many ideas as possible to prevent an egg from breaking after being dropped from a height of 10m.
This problem, frequently used in creativity studies, enabled the scientists to assess 10 different aspects of creative thinking. They found that the ability to generate ideas that were both original and adapted to the constraints of a new problem differed according to age group.
Young adults, on average, scored higher than teenagers in almost all areas related to creativity.
On the whole, the 50- to 81-year-olds also scored higher than teenage participants, although this phenomenon was less marked than among the 19- to 35-year-olds.
These results point to an increase in problem-solving ability with age, as many previous studies on creativity have concluded.
To better understand the developmental trajectory of creativity, the scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines on 111 study participants. This group comprised 23 adolescents, 47 young adults and 41 seniors.
This second experiment highlighted the fact that creative processes and the brain networks that support them evolve throughout life.
Adolescents are less creative than adults because their ability to imagine multiple solutions to a problem is hampered by what the scientific literature calls the “phenomenon of fixation”. In other words, they find it harder than their elders to generate a multitude of original ideas, because they tend to lock themselves into more conventional reasoning. This makes them less innovative.
While this study contributes to a better understanding of the cognitive and neural mechanisms of creativity, it does have limitations. Its panel size is relatively small, and the scientists based their conclusions on a single brain scan per participant.
However, this research does challenge the conventional wisdom that young people are more creative than other age groups, and shows that coming up with an original idea can be much more difficult than it seems.