Notebook, 1993-

MODES - Learning - Conditioning and Learning - Creativity - Enhancing Creativity

Cognition & Creativity

CHAPTER Ten [From Coon, Introduction to Psychology, Exploration and Application.]
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 bannana.

Basic units of thought can all be combined in complex thinking:

l. Images. Most often, a mental representation that has picture-like qualities; an icon.

2. Muscular responses. Internal representations of events in terms of generated, remembered, or imagined muscular sensations.

3. Concepts. A generalized idea representing a category or class of objects or events grouped together on some basis.

4. Language or symbols. A body of words, or symbols, and rules for combining them that is used for communication and thought and is understood by a sizeable community.

II. Mental Imagery.
Images may involve different senses. A survey of 500 people found that 97 percent have visual images, 92 percent have auditory images, over 50 percent 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 answere: "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 muscualar 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."

III. Concepts.
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:
Conjunctive concept. It refers to a class of objects having more than one feature in common. Sometimes called "and" concepts: To belong to the concept class, an item must have "This feature and this feature and this feature." For example, a motorcycle must have two wheels and an engine and handle bars.

Relational concepts. They classify objects on the basis of their relationship to something else or by the relationship between features of an object. Larger, above, left, north, and upside down are all relational concepts. Another example is sister, which is defined as "a female considered in her relation to another person having the same parents."

Disjunctive concepts. These refer to objects that have at least one of several possible features. These are "either-or concepts." To belong, an item must have "this feature or that feature or another feature." In the game of baseball, a strike is either a swing and a miss or a pitch down the middle or a foul ball. The either-or quality of disjunctive concepts makes them difficult to learn.

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 taht identifying concepts is difficult when we cannot come up with a prototype relevant to what we see.

Concepts have two types of meaning:
Denotative meaning. The denotative meaning of a word or concept is its exact definition.

Connotative meaning. It is its emotional or personal meaning. Connotations of some one thing can differ.

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!

Rate this word: JAZZ

Rounded - Angular

Strong - Weak

Smooth - Rough

Passive - Active

Large - Small

Hot - Cold

Bad - Good

Relaxed - Tense

Dry - Wet

Stale - Fresh

IV. Language. As we have seen, thinking sometimes takes place without language. Everyone has had the experince 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.
1. Symbols. First, a language must provide symbols that can stand for objects and ideas. The symbols we call words are built out of:

The sounds m, b, w, and a cannot form a syllable mbwa in English, but in Swahili they can. The units of speech can be arranged in countless ways. Consider the possibilities with just four morphemes reach, to, able, and un. From these, we can make able to, unable to, reach to, to reach, able to reach, unable to reach, reachable, unreachable, reachable to, unreachable to , unto, unto Able.

2. Grammar. Secondly, a language must have a grammar, or set of rules, for making sounds into words and words into sentences. One part of grammar, known as syntax., consists of rules for word order in sentences. Syntax is important because rearranging words almost always changes the meaning of a sentence. Traditional grammar is concerned with "surface" language--the sentences we actually speak.

Linguist Noam Chomsky argues that we do not learn all the sentences we might ever say. Rather, we actively create them by applying transformation rules. (the child saying "I runned home"). For example, the core sentence "Dog bites man" can be transformed to the following patterns (and others as well):

Past: The dog bit the man.

Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.

Negative: The dog did not bite the man.

Question: Did the dog bite the man?

3. Productive, meaningful arrangement. The third, perhaps most essential charactaeristic of language is that it is productive. The great strength of any true language is that it can produce new thoughts or ideas. Because words do not resemble the things they represent, words can be rearranged to produce an infinite variety of meaningful sentences. It is the productive quality of language that makes it such a powerful tool for thought. The cries, gestures, and mating calls of animals have broad meanings immediately understood by other animals of the same species, but for the most part natural animal communication is quite limited (no variations on a theme for instance). More importantly, animal communication seems to lack the productive quality of human language. Interchanges can be impressive, but communication and actual language use are two different things.

V. 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.

Trial and error: If I forget the combination to my bike lock, I may be able to discover it by trial and error. In an era of high-speed computers, many trial-and-error solutions are best left to machines. A computer could generate all possible combinations of the five numbers on my lock in a split second.

Rote:. When a problem is solved by rote, thinking is guided by a learned set of rules.

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.

General Properties. A solution that correctly states the requirements for success but not in sufficient detail for further action. One discovers the general properties of a correct solution (one who understands the general properties of the puzzle can solve it consistently)

Functional (workable) Solutions. A detailed, practical, and workable solution.

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:

- Try to identify how the current state of affairs differs from the desired goal. Then find steps that will reduce the difference.

- Try working backward from the desired goal to the starting point or current state.

- If you can't reach the goal directly, try to identify an intermediate goal or subproblem that at least gets you closer.

- Represent the problem in other ways, with graphs, diagrmas, or analogies, for instnce.

- Generate a possible solution and test it. Doing so may eliminate many alternatives, or it may clarify what is needed for a solution.

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:

l. Identify the problem.

2. Define it clearly.

3. Explore possible solutions and relevant knowledge.

4. Act by trying a possible solution or hypothesis.

5. Look at the results and learn from them. Of course, each atempted solution may identify further subproblems. These can again be tackled with the "ideal" steps until a final satisfactory solution is found.

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.

l. Selective encoding. Refers to selecting information that is relevant to a problem, while ignoring distractions.

2. Selective combination. Bringing together seemingly unrelated bits of useful information.

3. Selective comparison. The ability to compare new problems with old information or with problems already solved.

Common Barriers to Creative Thinking:

1. Fixations: One of the mental blocks that prevent insight. The ease with which problems are solved is related to a variety of factors. One of the most important barriers to problem solving is called fixation. Fixation is the tendency to get "hung up" on wrong solutions or to become blind to alternatives. A prime example of fixation is functional fixedness. This is the inability to see new uses (functions) for familiar objects or for objects that have been used in a particular way. If you have ever used a dime as a screwdriver, you've overcome functional fixedness.

2. Emotional Barriers: Inhibition and fear of making a fool of oneself, fear of making a mistake, inability to tolerate ambiguity, excessive self-criticism.

3. Cultural Barriers: Values that hold that fantasy is a waste of time; that playfulness is for children only; that reason, logic, and numbers are good; that feelings, intuitions, pleasure, and humor are bad or have no value in the serious business of problem solving.

4. Learned Barriers: Conventions about uses (functional fixedness), meanings, possibilities, taboos.

5. Perceptual Barriers: Habits leading to a failure to identify important elements of a problem.

VI. 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):

Fluency is defined as the total number of suggestions you are able to make.

Flexibility is defined as the number of times you shift from one class of possible uses to another.

Originality refers to how novel or unusual your suggestions are.

Divergent Thought. Thinking that produces many ideas or alternatives; a major element in original or creative thought. It is the most widely used measure of creative problem solving. Many possibilites are developed from one starting point.

Convergent Thought. Thinking directed toward discoveryof a single established correct answer; conventional thinking. In routine problem solving or thinking, there is one correct answer, and the problem is to find it. This leads to convergent thought (lines of thought converge on the correct answer).

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 IG test scores.

Unusual Uses Test. A person is asked to think of as many uses for an object as possible.

Consequences Test. Object is to answer a question, such as "What would be the results if everyone suddenly lost the sense of balance and were unable to stay in an upright position?" by listing as many reactions as possible.

Anagrams Test. Subjects are given a word such as creativity and asked to make as many new words as possible by rearranging the letters.

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.

l. Orientation. As a first step, the problem must be defined and important dimensions identified.

2. Preparation. In the second stage, creative thinkers saturate themselves with as much information pertaining to the problem as possible.

3. Incubation. Most major problems produce a period during which all attempted solutions will have proved futile. At this point, problem slving may proceed on a subconscious level: While the problem seems to have been set aside, it is still "cooking" in the background.

4. Illumination. The stage of incubation is often ended by a rapid insight or series of insights. THese produce the "Aha!" experience, often depicted in cartoons as a light bulb appearing over the thinker's head.

5. Verification. The final step is to test and critically evaluate the solution obtained during the stage of illumination. If the solution proves faulty, the thinker reverts to the stage of incubation.

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 musiciains 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:

1. At any given level of IG, some people are creative and some are not. For people of normal or above normal intelligence, there is little correlation between creativity and IQ (Nelson & Crutchfield, 1970; Taylor, 1978)

2. Creative people usually have a greater than average range of knowledge and interests, and they are more fluent in combining ideas from various sources.

3. Creative people have an openness to experience. They accept irrational thoughts and are uninhibited about their feelings and fantasies.

4. MacKinnon's subjects enjoyed symbolic thought, ideas, concepts, and possibilities. They tended to be interested in truth, form, and beauty, rather than in recognition or success. Their creative work was an end in itself.

5. Highly creative people value independence and have a preference for complexity. However, they are unconventional and nonconforming primarily in their work; otherwise they do not have particularly unusual, outlandish, or bizarre personalities. Indeed, most creative personalities resemble this profile (the following qualites have repeatedly been found to charactaerize creative individuals):

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.

VII. Intuition. 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 probablity 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 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."

[Coon, Dennis. Introduction to Psychology, Exploration and Application. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1989. Chapter: Learning & Cognition]



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