Notebook, 1993-

Return to - Notes for a Perspective on Art Education -- NOTES on Child Development

Notes from: Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology, Exploration and Application. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1989.

The Brain, Biology, and Behavior - Sensation & reality - Perceiving the World - States of Consciousness

Conditioning & Learning - Cognition & Creativity - Artificial Intelligence - Enhancing Creativity

Emotion - Health, Stress & Coping - ANS Effects

Theories of Personality - Dimensions of Personality - From Birth to Death - Child Development

Cognition and Creativity

I. THINKING (or cognition) refers to the mental manipulation of images, concepts, words, rules, symbols, and precepts. It involves attention, pattern recognition, memory, decision making, intuition, knowledge, and more. Images, muscular responses, concepts, and language or symbol are the basic units of thought. It takes many forms, including daydreaming, fantasizing, problem solving. In cognitive psychology the "computer" is the brain, and thinking is the "programming" we seek in understanding, and reasoning (to name but a few). For all their raw power, computers are only able to plan 5 or 6 moves in advance (by considering over 1 billion possibilities). They don't make mistakes in the short run, but they can be beaten by strategy and foresight. In cognitive psychology the "computer" is the brain, and thinking is the "programming" we seek to understand.

Internal representation. At its most basic, thinking is the internal representation of a problem or situation--a chess player who mentally tries out several possible moves before actually touching a chess piece.

Insight. Insight is a sudden mental reorganization of the elements of a problem that makes the solution obvious. Chimps are capable of using sticks to get at increasingly longer sticks in order to get at a banana.

BASIC UNITS OF THOUGHT can all be combined in complex thinking. :

Images may involve different senses. A survey of 500 people found that 97% have visual images, 92% have auditory images, over 50% have imagery that included movement, touch, taste, smell, and pain. Most people use images to think and to solve problems.

Synesthesia. Images cross normal sensory barriers. Individual listening to music may experience a burst of colors or tastes as well as sound sensations.

Mentally rotate. Mental images are not necessarily flat, and they can be moved about as needed.

Stored images. They can be used to bring prior experience to bear on problem solving. You might begin by picturing all the uses you have already seen to answer: "How many uses can you think of for an old automobile tire?"

Created images. Used to generate more original solutions. People who have good imaging ability tend to score higher on tests of creativity. A sculptor may completely picture a proposed sculpture before beginning work.

Size of imagery. Picturing things at oversized scale aids in knowing the details.

Muscular imagery. We think with our bodies. We often represent things in a kind of muscular imagery created by actions or implicit (unexpressed ) actions. People who "talk" with their hands are using gestures to help themselves think as well as to communicate. A great deal of information is contained in kinesthetic sensations (feelings from the muscles and joints). As a person talks, these sensations help structure the flow of ideas (Horowitz, 1970). It is impossible not to demonstrate when attempting to describe some things.

Micromovements. Most thinking is accompanied by muscular tension and micromovements throughout the body. When a subject was asked to imagine that he was hitting a nail with a hammer a burst of activity was recorded in the muscles of the unmoving arm. Ask someone to describe an event and you will probably get an "instant replay."

A concept is an idea that represents a class of objects or events. They are powerful tools because they allow us to think more abstractly, free from distracting details.

Concept formation. It is the process of classifying information into meaningful categories. At its most basic, concept formation involves experience with positive and negative instances of the concept (learning range in size of "dog" and "cat" categories). Adults more often acquire concepts by learning or forming rules. For example, a triangle must be a closed shape with three sides made of straight lines. Rule learning is generally more efficient than examples, but examples remain important. It is unlikely that memorizing a series of rules would allow an uninitiated listener to accurately categorize punk, new wave, fusion, salsa, heavy metal, and rap music.

Types of concepts:

Prototypes. In addition to rules and features, most people also use prototypes, or ideal models, to identify concepts. A robin, for instance, is a model bird, whereas an ostrich is not. What this tells us is that not all examples of a concept are equally representative. How do we know when the line is crossed from tall cup to vase? Probably we mentally compare objects to an "ideal" cup. The upshot is that identifying concepts is difficult when we cannot come up with a prototype relevant to what we see.

Concepts have two types of meaning:

Osgood's Semantic differential. Method used to measure connotative meaning. When words or concepts are rated on a series of scales, most of their connotative meaning boils down to the dimensions good-bad, strong-weak, and active-passive. Because concepts vary on these dimensions, words or phrases with roughly the same denotative meaning may have very different connotations. For example, I am conscientious; you are careful, he is nit-picking!

As we have seen, thinking sometimes takes place without language. Everyone has had the experience of searching for a word to expresss an idea that exists as a vague image or feeling. Nevertheless, most thinking leans heavily on language, because it allows the world to be encoded into symbols that are easy to manipulate.

Semantics. The study of the meaning of words and language. It is here that the link between language and thought becomes most evident. For example, the subtle change in meaning caused by a reordering of words. Semantic problems often arise when a word has dual, or unclear, meaning: Does the sentence "Tom was seated by the waiter" mean that the waiter gave Tom a seat or that Tom was seated beside the waiter? Choice of words may directly influence thinking by shifting meaning: Has one country's army "invaded" another? Or "effected a protective incursion"? Is the city reservoir "half full" or "half empty"? Would you rather eat "prime beef" or "dead cow"?!

The Structure of Language.

Problem solving may be the result of thinking that is mechanical, insightful, or based on understanding. We begin with an awareness that an answer probably exists and that by proper thinking, a solution can be found. A number of different approaches to problem solving can be identified.

l. Mechanical Solutions. They may be achieved by trial and error or by rote.

2. Solutions by Understanding. Many problems cannot be solved mechanically or by habitual modes of thought. In this case, a higher level of thinking based on understanding is necessary. Karl Duncker, German psychologists, found that there were two phases to successful problem solving.

3. Heuristics. Problem-solving strategy. Solving problems often requires a strategy. If the number of alternatives is small, a random search strategy may work. This is another example of trial-and-error problem solving in which all possibilities are tried. Typically, heuristics reduce the number of alternatives that a thinker must consider. In more complex problem solving, heuristics do not guarantee success, but they certainly help. Here are some strategies that often work:

4. Ideal Problem Solving. Most valuable heuristic of all is having a general thinking strategy. Psychologist John Bransford and his colleagues list five steps that they believe lead to effective problem solving:

5. Insightful Solutions. With humans we say that insight has occurred when an answer suddenly appears after a period of unsuccessful thought. An insight is usually so rapid and clear that we often wonder how such an "obvious" solution could have been missed. If the insight is not rapid, may be heading for a mistake. Psychologists Robert Sternberg and Janet Davidson (1982) have studied people as they solve problems that require insight or "leaps of logic." According to them, insight involves three abilities.

Common Barriers to Creative Thinking:

In addition to thinking that is mechanical, insightful, or based on understanding, we can add that thought may be inductive (going from specific facts or observations to general principles) or deductive (going from general principles to specific situations), logical (proceeding from given information to new conclusions on the basis of explicit rules) or illogical (intuitive, associative, or personal). Creative thinking involves all these styles of thought (in varying combinations) plus fluency, flexibility, and originality (Guilford, 1950). The creativity of your suggestions could be rated in this way (By totaling the number of times you showed fluency, flexibility, and originality, we could rate the creativity of your thinking on this problem--speaking more generally, we would be rating your capacity for divergent thinking (Wallach, 1985):

TESTS. There are several tests of divergent thinking. Each of these tests can be scored for fluency, flexibility, and originality. Tests of divergent thinking apparently tap something quite different from intelligence. Generally there is little correlation between such tests and IQ test scores.

Isn't creativity more than divergent thought? Divergent thought is definitely an important part of creative thinking, but there is more to it. To be creative, the solution to a problem must be more than novel, unusual, or original. It must also be useful or meaningful, and it must meet the demands of the problem. This is the dividing line between a "harebrained scheme" and a "stroke of genius." In other words the creative person brings reasoning and critical thinking to bear on novel ideas once they are produced.

Stages of Creative Thought. A good summary of the sequence of events in creative thinking proposes five stages that usually occur. Of course, creative thought is not always so neat. Nevertheless, the stages listed are a good summary of the most typical sequence of events.

The Creative Personality. According to the popular stereotype, highly creative people are eccentric, introverted, neurotic, socially inept, unbalanced in their interests, and frequently, on the edge of madness. Although some well-known artists and musicians cultivate a public image to fit the sterotype, there is little truth in it. Donald Mackinnon, psychologist, has drawn these conclusions from extensive testing of creative writers, architects, mathematicians, and scientists:

Creativity. Most of what we know about creativity remains preliminary. Nevertheless, it is beginning to look as if some creative thinking skills can be taught.

We often make decisions on the basis of intuition rather than logic. Doing so may provide quick answers, but it can also be misleading and sometimes disastrous. Two noted psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have spend 20 years studying how people make decisions and predictions in the face of uncertainty. They have found, to put it bluntly, that human judgment is often seriously flawed. Short cuts to answers often short-circuit clear thinking. Common errors in judgment:

1. Representativeness. A choice is given greater weight if it seems to be representative of what we already know. A choice seems to better represent a model and therefore seems more likely, even though it isn't. The likelihood of two events occurring together is lower than the probability of either alone. For example: The probability of getting one head when flipping a coin is one-half, or .5. And, the probability of getting two heads when flipping two coins is one-fourth, or .25.

2. Underlying Odds. A second common error in judgment involves ignoring the base rate, or underlying probability of an event. Estimates should be made at 70-30 rate, if that is the base rate--even if, intuitively, there seems a 50-50 chance. In many high-risk situations, ignoring base rates is the same as thinking you are an exception to the rule.

3. Framing. The way a problem is stated, or framed, affects decisions. People often give different answers to the same problem stated in slightly different ways. Usually, the broadest way of framing or stating a problems produces the most rational decisions. However, people often state problems in increasingly narrow terms until a single, seemingly "obvious" answer emerges. For example, to select a career, it would be wise to consider pay, working conditions, job satisfaction, needed skills, future employment outlook, and many other factors. Instead, such decisions are often narrowed to thoughts such as, "I like to write, so I'll be a journalist."

[Notes from: Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology, Exploration and Application. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1989.]



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