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Creativity: An Organizational Schema

Caselli, Richard J. MD

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: September 2009 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - p 143-154
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e318192cce0
Review Article

Objective To describe an organizational schema of human creativity.

Background Previous research has concluded that creativity involves something novel and useful, but whether creativity is common or rare, domain-specific or domain-general, quantitative or qualitative, or personal or social remains unresolved.

Method Extant research from neurobiology, psychology, cognitive science, and neuroeconomics was used to generate a novel synthesis that explains human creative behavior.

Results Creativity is the attempt to bridge the gap between what is and what should be. It emerges from the interplay of 5 commonly shared factors: motivation, perception, action, temperament, and social interaction. The reward value of what exists compared with an imagined possibility generates the motivational voltage that drives the creative effort. Action to attain the goal requires a dexterously executed plan, and dexterity levels are influenced by both practice effects and biologic biases. Temperament sustains the creative effort during periods of nonreward in anticipation of goal completion. Societal esthetics measure the success of creative efforts. Personal skill sets derived from nature and nurture vary between individuals and determine one's own creative phenotype.

Conclusions Despite great qualitative and quantitative differences between individuals, the neurobiologic principles of creative behavior are the same from the least to the most creative among us.

Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, AZ

Reprints: Richard J. Caselli, MD, Department of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, 13400 East Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85259 (e-mail:

Received for publication June 23, 2008; accepted October 19, 2008

The author has no conflict of interest or financial involvement with this manuscript.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.