Psychology of Creativity

When teaching the psychology of creativity, Sawyer was often challenged by his artist students who felt that explaining creativity might in turn make them look at it too analytically. Sawyer rebuttals that “explaining creativity can help us identify and realize every person’s unique creative talents, help our leaders respond better to the challenges facing modern society, help us all be better problem solvers, help us realize the importance of positive, peak experiences to mental health, and help educators teach more efficiently” (Sawyer, 2003).

Explaining creativity to people provides more than just an individual intellectual satisfaction, it in turn will lead to a more creative society and will “enhance the creative potential of our families, our workplaces and our institutions” (Sawyer, 2003).

It is important to understand the benefits of creativity. In my creative workspace I want the users to embrace their creative minds and understand that the space is specifically designed to be a creative catalyst for them. With more people understanding and making an effort to practice creative thinking, our society will rapidly advance and modern technology will flourish.

(Sawyer, 2003).

Creative Thinking and Environment

It comes as no surprise that our environments greatly effect the way that people think. A study constructed in 2007 by Joan Meyers-Levy shows how that ceiling heights directly effect how people think. She had two groups of people both in different rooms, one with an eight foot ceiling and one with a ten foot ceiling. She asked the participants to group a 10 item list of sports into categories of their own choice.

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The people in the room with the higher ceiling height came up with more abstract categories overall, such as “challenging sports” or “sports they would like to play”, compared to the other room who categorized them into “number of players on the team” for example. “Ceiling height affects the way you process information. You’re focusing on the specific details In the lower ceiling condition” says Meyers-Levy. High ceilings make people feel less physically constrained which encourages more free thinking and leads to more abstract connections. On the other hand, if you need to do more detailed, analytical thinking, a lower ceiling height is best. In the grand scheme of things it is not actually the height of the ceiling that effects us, but the effect of our perception of space. (Athens, 2009).

The view from a building also has a great effect on the user. Views of nature have been proven to improve focus. Researcher William Sullivan found that views of greenery are especially beneficial to students with Attention Deficit Disorder. He found city settings to be far to distracting, and green scenery to be more relaxing for these students. C. Kenneth Tanner did a study that produced findings that “students in classrooms with unrestricted views of at least 50 feet outside the window, including gardens, mountains and other natural elements, had higher scores on tests of vocabulary, language arts and math than did students without such expansive vistas or whose classrooms primarily overlooked roads, parking lots and other urban fixtures” (Athens, 2009).

Not only does natural greenery have a great impact on our psychological well-being, but natural lighting also has a profound effect on living beings. “Daylight synchronizes our sleep-wake cycles, or circadian rhythms, enabling us to stay alert during the day and to sleep at night” (Athens, 2009). Buildings are traditionally not designed to let the right amount of natural light that both our minds and bodies need. This is often seen to be a problem in institutional buildings such as schools for children. “You take a child who probably did not get enough rest, dump them off in front of a school where there’s very little light, and guess what? They have jet lag” (Athens, 2009). A Study was conducted in 1992 which followed schoolchildren four different classrooms in Sweden. “The research showed that the kids in classrooms with the least daylight had disrupted levels of cortisol, a hormone that is regulated by the body’s circadian rhythm” (Athens, 2009). Sunlight has also been proven to improve student outcomes. A study was conducted in 1999 that compared standardized test scores for reading and math in more than 21,000 elementary schools in three districts in three different states: Washington, Colorado, and California. Researchers rate the amounts of sunlight in the classrooms on a scale from zero to five, being the most amount of sunlight. Students in Capistrano, California were in the sunniest classrooms and advanced 26% faster in reading and 20% in mathematics than the students in the least sunny classrooms over the course of one year. And in other districts it was found that the sunnier classrooms on average, boosted scores between 7 and 18% compared to students in less sunny classrooms. (Athens, 2009).

Circadian lighting has also been proven to effect the physical health and efficiency of human beings. Researches from the Journal of Circadian Rhythms define “light as it impacts the circadian system. Circadian rhythms are biological rhythms that repeat approximately every 24 hours. Exposure to the natural sunrise and sunset synchronizes our circadian rhythms to exactly 24 hours” (Rea, 2010). Disruption in circadian rhythms have been associated with “increased risks for breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, sleep disorders and other ailments”. Not only does disruption of circadian rhythm put people at risk for long term health ailments but it effects people’s daily health and productivity. “Light is defined in terms of how optical radiation stimulates the human visual system, but this limited definition belies the impact that light has on other biological systems, such as the circadian system. Because exposures of light and dark on the retina regulate the circadian system, and because circadian disruption has broad health implications, it is important to develop a new definition of light that characterizes the impact light has on this important biological system” (Rea, 2010). The current definition of circadian light is ‘based upon the potential for light to suppress melatonin synthesis at night”. (Rea, 2010).

Circadian lighting studies conducted in retirement and nursing homes have proven to be very informative on how lighting effects the aging mind over time. Retirement homes are typically too dark to keep circadian clocks functioning properly. In 2008 a study was published by neuroscientist Rixt F. Rimersma-van der Lek from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. She randomly selected six out of twelve ‘assisted -living facilities in Holland to have supplemental lighting installed, Brin ing the luminosity to approximately 1,000 lux; the other six provided dimmer lighting of around 300 lux” (Athens, 2009). Tests were taken at six-month intervals over the course of three and a half years. The residents living in the more brightly lit buildings “showed 5% less cognitive decline than occupants of the six darker buildings did” (Athens, 2009). This additional lighting was also found to have reduced symptoms of depression by 19%. Other studies also show that circadian rhythms keep the brain functioning optimally buy calibrating hormone levels and metabolic rate.” Researchers find that studying the elderly and their circadian rhythms is the most beneficial. For example, “elderly people- especially those with dementia- often have circadian disruptions”. Researches believe that providing bright daytime lighting, could help “restore their proper rhythms and thus improve overall brain function” (Athens, 2009). They also recommend “the use of blue LEDs and full spectrum fluorescent lights in buildings during the day; both have enough blue light to trigger the circadian system and keep occupants awake and alert. After dark, however buildings could switch to lamps and fixtures with longer wavelength bulbs, which are less likely to emit light detected by the circadian system and interfere with sleep at night” (Athens, 2009). Program director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Mariana Figueiro believes It is an an important architectural decision to give people a lighting scheme where they can “differentiate between day and night”. (Athens, 2009).

While this information about circadian lighting and cognition is helpful when designing a public space to have optimal heath benefits, when applying it to the creative mind, color temperature becomes more complicated. “Although bright light might boost cognition, recent work suggests it counteracts relaxation and openness- effects that might be more important than alertness in some settings” (Athens, 2009). A study conducted in 2006 had counselors interview 80 college students individually in either a brightly lit or a dim counseling room. “The students then completed a questionnaire about their reactions to the interview. The students questioned in the dim room felt more relaxed, viewed the counselor more positively and shared more information about themselves than those counseled in the brighter room did. The findings suggest that dim light helps people to loosen up” (Athens, 2009). A similar study revealed how the contents of a room could also be soothing to the inhabitants. Moshe Bar, neuroscientist of Harvard Medical School and Maital Neta conducted a study showing subjects pictures of numerous versions of “neutral objects, such as sofas and watches”. These examples were all identical except for minor variations of either soft, curved edges or sharp and squared-off perimeters. The subjects were asked to make quick, snap decisions about these objects and there was a significant preference to the curved edges. The neurologist believes that this natural preference exists because “we associate sharp edges with danger”. Bar further supported this theory in a study she conducted in 2007. This time the subjects brains were scanned “using functional magnetic resonance imaging” while viewing these neutral objects. Bar saw that the amygdala “which is involved in fear processing and emotional arousal, was more active when people were looking at objects with sharp angles”. Bar notes that this research is still in overall early stages because “an object’s contour is not the only element that informs our aesthetic preferences” (Athens, 2009). These findings suggest that something as simple as rounded corners of furniture in waiting rooms or living areas could help the user to feel more relaxed and be able to unwind (Athens, 2009).

Other studies have revealed to scientists that seating plans have a similar effect on people. These studies focused on seating arrangements in residential health care facilities. “Scientists discovered that the common practice of placing chairs along the walls of resident day rooms or lounges actually prevented socializing. A better plan to encourage interaction, researchers found, is organizing furniture in small groups throughout the room” (Athens, 2009). These findings were a result of a studies conducted in 1999 by psychologists from the Otot-von-Guericke University of Magdeburg in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden which examined seating in different settings. The study was conducted over eight weeks including over fifty lessons. The seating arrangements were linear and semicircular. They found the semi-circular configuration increased student participation. (Athens, 2009).

These studies provide very useful information when designing an environment to intentionally effect the user. In this particular project, the users are artists and designers who have a very specific way of thinking and doing things. It is traditionally understood that thinking can be divided into two sides of the brain: the left and right. Robert H. Shmerling from Harvard Medical school states that “people tend to have a personality, thinking style, or way of doing things that is either right-brained or left-brained” (Shmerling, 2017). Research shows that proper who identify with favoring the right side of their brain are “intuitive and creative free thinkers”. Meanwhile, left side thinkers are ‘quantitative and analytical”. (Shmerling, 2017). Newer research is revealing that thinking tends to be more fluid than strictly left and right side thinking. None the less, it is always good to be fluid and be able to think in different ways. Psychologist, Elizabeth Shobe says that “shifting between sides of the brain is necessary for creativity’ and that people who tend to favor one hand/leg/side of their body often have less of a cross between hemispheres compared to people who are ambidextrous. She also says that “it is always helpful to do anything that switches the hemispheres of the brain from thinking” (Pappano, 2014). Overall, creative thinking is seen as more unique compared to straight-forward analytical thinking and can help society progress.

Creativity is what brings change and innovation in the world. Gerard J. Puccio, Department Chair and Professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College says “The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world, you need to be creative”. For some, creative thinking comes naturally. For others it can be a learned behavior. If everyone could learn to think more creatively it would not only benefit themselves but the world around them. Which is actually why universities are currently paying more attention to creativity- the marketplace is demanding it. More recently, Creative skills have been appearing on course lists as a credential and many schools are now offering courses in “creative studies”. In these classes students are encouraged to do things like “find cultural norms to break” (Grant, 2016).

Critical thinking is known to be the essential skill for success. Artists and designers tend to be the creative thinkers of the world. Designers have an ability to build on an idea and make it into something that has never been seen or done before, that is totally their own work of art (Grant, 2016). Apple Inc is known to be the world’s most innovative company. Founded in 1976 Cupertino, California, Apple has taken the world by storm. Back in 1976 Microsoft was the only computer manufacturer and it was really only used by tech guys. The common household did not have a computer. Three friends working out of a garage in California saw the world differently and wanted to make computers more beautiful, and simpler to use for the rest of the world. (Safian, 2018). The idea continues today with Apple’s sleek, streamline and easy to use products. Without the creative ideas from these men, the world would be different as we know it today. As of April 19th, 2017 it was recorded that there are over 85.5 million iPhone users in the United States alone. (Smith, 2018). Thats not to say that the world is different because everyone owns a Mac but it also pushed Microsoft to develop more user friendly systems and encouraged competition. Without this innovative thinking.. who knows where we would be.

Lessons from a Creativity Architect

Recent studies conducted on the influence of environmental psychology have also revealed very specific information about producing an environment specifically for creative thinking. In general, a relaxed state of mind fosters creativity and stress is seen as harmful for creative thought because the mind struggles to expand itself. Many ways were mentioned earlier to bring a sense of calm to an environment such as views of nature, high ceilings, expansive space, dim lighting, etc. When speaking with creativity architect, Donald Rattner he specifically stated that the fluidity of the interior is imperative. Curves, circles and smooth, rounded surfaces are better than sharp corners or edges. These arrangements have better potential to generate ideas and increase the fluidity of the space. Curved lines have been proven to produce more creative thought than linear surfaces (Rattner, 2018).

Visual components of a space will effect anyone psychologically, but they do a great deal to artists, designers and any other creative thinkers more so than your average person. Throughout history artists have been known to deem their own creative space. Jackson pollack painted on his studio floor. Henry David Thoreau wrote in his cabin and Marcel Proust wrote in his bed. If you repeat your creative action in the same place, you will associate that feeling, or emotional response to that specific space, also known as place attachment (Altman, 1992). Other environmental influences are very important for the creative thinker such as color theory. “Several laboratory experiments have been conducted measuring the chromatic effects on cognitive processing” says Rattner. Simply being exposed to the color blue will subliminally improve creative performance. He stresses using cool tones like blues and greens to help facilitate creativity, rather than warm tones which make a person feel more hostile and closed off (Rattner, 2018).

Rattner also emphasizes the importance of movement rather than remaining stagnant. Sitting down is actually the worst position for creative thought. Standing up is better, but lying down is actually the best. Also engaging all of the senses is very important. Lemon, lavender, jasmine, rosemary, cinnamon and peppermint have all been fount to be septs that boot an individuals creativity. Ambient noise is also known to do the same. Listening to music is not only calming but gives your mind the right balance of distraction that it needs for creative thought, rather than silence. Warmer temperatures are also proven to produce more creative thought. In theory the warmth heats up idea flow. Rattner also stated that it is not a coincidence that a lot of people say their “best ideas come to them in the shower”. The environment happens to be optimal for producing creative thought. The same logic applies for how people also say that they get their best ideas at night. (Ditkoff, 2008). An important component of that is also that you are doing a mindless task with your hands. The hands are the most closely linked body part to our brains. When we are using out hands we are doing something constructive that keeps our minds moving and that often helps generate ideation. This is why playing is so good for children’s growth and development. Playing keeps their minds moving and coming up with new creative ideas. Maybe if adults took the time to play more like children, it would in turn help them in their careers. He suggests that cooking is a great way for adults to use their hands and spark some creativity within themselves (Rattner, 2018).


Creative thinking is essential for innovation and for society to progress. It is a valuable skill to have because it does not come naturally for everyone. Creativity can be fostered through environmental influences for those who want to utilize their creative thinking skills. Creative individuals simply cannot produce they best ideas if not in a space conducive to expansive thought. This is why designers need to look at learning and woking environments from different angles. Everyone learns differently and people may not be producing thought to their full potential if they are not in the right environment for it. As Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us”.

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Psychology of Creativity. (2022, Feb 03). Retrieved from

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