By Mikelle Leow

What happens to your ability to think up novel ideas when you get older, and when does creativity truly peak?

To answer these questions, Alison Gopnik and Tom Griffiths—professors of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley—have conducted a handful of experiments with their colleagues to determine the effects of age on creativity.

The team began with a group of participants of different ages: namely four- and five-year-old preschoolers, six- to 11-year-old children, 12- to 14-year-old teenagers, and adults.

The researchers discovered that, when it came to making descriptions, preschoolers were the most likely to think up creative, unusual explanations, and school children were slightly less creative. “And there was a dramatic drop at adolescence. Both the teenagers and the adults were the most likely to stick with the obvious explanation even when it didn’t fit the data.”

However, when it came to social problems, teenagers were deemed the most creative group. “They were more likely to choose the unusual explanation than were either the 6-year-olds or the adults.”

“Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.”

It turns out that while much of childhood and adolescence is spent exploring multiple facets of life, creativity dwindles in adulthood as a result of the stern constraints of reality. Moral of the story: it’s important to see things in a childlike wonder at times, even when your consciousness fights back and tells you how ridiculous things might be.

You can read more about this study over at The New York Times.

By Mikelle Leow

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