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What internal and environmental/ external factors have been found to support the development of creativity?

The research literature exploring the development of creativity reports a wide range of factors that can both positively and negatively impact creative thinking.

Studies have found that a range of ‘internal” factors, factors associated with the individual, affect creativity such as:
  1. Possessing a strong foundation of knowledge in the specific area/ topic.
  2. Possessing domain relevant skills in the specific area, such as having computer skills if working on computers or knowing how to play an instrument if playing in a band.
  3. Specific cognitive abilities are also reported to be associated with increased creativity, such as shorter reaction time, quicker processing speed ability, cognitive flexibility, increased inhibition and greater cognitive control, higher levels of fluid intelligence, strong memory/ long term storage and retrieval of information, and increased capacity for divergent thinking.
  4. Studies have reported that an individual character traits can also impact their level of creativity, such as being tolerant of rejection/ disappointment/failure, being able to persist and delay gratification on tasks, being open alternative perceptive, openness to new experiences, tolerating uncertainty and ambiguity, and being oriented toward exploration and risk-taking behavior.
There is a robust literature that has examined the role of external factors in the development of creativity, much of which can be found within the teaching and education literature. Creativity is viewed as happening within a social context (the classroom and the individual’s relationship with teachers and classmates). The literature has examined a wide range of factors that can impact the development of creativity in a student through the classroom environment, teacher qualities, and teaching practices and expectations.

  1. School attitudes and values can foster or impeded creativity as a important component of the learning process by supporting teachers’ efforts to develop creativity through instruction or emphasizing traditional teaching techniques that de-emphasize creative thinking through lesson planning/instruction and assessment.
  2. How information is presented and taught within the classroom can impact whether it fosters or impedes the development of creativity. For example, studies have found that “less structured classrooms” and a tolerance for “wrong answers” can allow for more creative learning.
  3. One study reported that positive student-teacher relationships allow for more creative thinking.
  4. Whether students are allowed time to be creative within the lesson planning, and how tasks and information is presented can affective creative thinking.
  5. Giving overt permission to be creative (encouraging and supporting) can build self-efficacy for creativity.
  6. One study found that an “ill structured problem” (problems or tasks that lacks a clear path to solution and allow for questioning assumptions) can produce greater creative thinking.
  7. The kinds of tasks and assignments can affect creativity such as Project-based / problem-based learning, which allows students room for choice and promotes personal investment/ownerships and responsibility for the outcome. Traditional assessments, multiple choice tests, or questions phrased in a manner that only has one specific answer discourages creative thinking.
  8. Teachers often are in the position to evaluate student products, which can place them as the sole “gate-keeper” of what is creative and valued. However, employing students as evaluators can empower them, strengthen their motivation and investment in learning and further define what is creative.
  9. Teachers that demonstrate collaborative teaching/ inter-disciplinary team teaching across disciplines act as role models by approaching topics and problems in a creative manner.


Kaufman, J. (2009). Defining Creativity. Creativity 101. Springer Publishing, Danvers, Ma.

Nusbaum, E., Silvia, P., and Beaty, R. (2014). Ready, Set, Create: What Instructing People to “Be Creative” Reveals About the Meaning and Mechanism of Divergent Thinking. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 8(4). 423-432.

Sternberg, R., and Williams, W. (2003). Teaching for Creativity: Two Dozen Tips.

Sternberg, R. (2006). The Nature of Creativity. Creativity Research Journal 18(1), 87-98.

Sternberg, R (2015). Teaching for Creativity: The Sounds of Silence. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (9) 2, 115-117.
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