Chapter 9 Memory and Creativity Barry S. Stein Although there are many ways to define creativity, creative behavior usually involves a product or response both novel and appropriate to the task at hand


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CHAPTER 9 Memory and Creativity Barry S
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CHAPTER 9 Memory and Creativity Barry S. Stein Although there are many ways to define creativity, creative behavior usually involves a product or response both novel and appropriate to the task at hand. Creative ideas and discoveries often provide new information and perspectives that were not apparent in the past. In contrast, the concept of memory is typically associated with ideas that are not novel or original. Indeed, the act of remembering is an attempt to recreate events and experiences that have occurred in the past. From this perspective, memory and creativity appear to involve very different kinds of activities. From other points of view, the differences between memory and creativity may not be as distinct. For example, Bartlett (1932) noted that the wayan event is remembered can change over successive recall tests. He found that information is sometimes deleted from the recollection of an event, and new information is sometimes added to the recollection of an event that was not present during the original experience. On the basis of these observations, Bartlett argued that remembering is not simply the reinstatement of previously experienced events but rather involves an imaginative reconstruction of the past. The tendency for remembering to involve imaginative and interpretive processes is also consistent with other research. For example, what is remembered about an event can be affected by the kinds of Barry S. Stein • Department of Educational Psychology, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN 38505. inferences people make during learning and by their expectations at the time of test (e.g., Johnson, Bransford, & Solomon, 1973; Loftus & Palmer, 1974; Pichert & Anderson, 1977). These findings suggest that some elements of creativity are involved in remembering. Creative behavior can also involve elements of memory. For example, many creative works are based on the personal experiences of the artists and writers who produce them. The recollection of personal experiences necessarily involves aspects of memory. Creative behavior can also involve more abstract types of knowledge and skills. For example, a writer's linguistic skills or an artist's drawing skills reflect knowledge that is acquired through experience and represented in memory. The preceding discussion suggests that although memory and creativity often involve different goals, they may frequently involve similar processes. In order to better understand the factors that influence creativity, it seems worthwhile to consider how previous experience affects creativity. This chapter explores both th~ positive and negative effects of memory on creativity and provides a conceptual framework for understanding the constraints that influence the creative transfer of knowledge. Consideration is also given to the types of experimental methods that can provide useful information about the creative transfer of knowledge. In addition, a heuristic framework is discussed that may facilitate the creative transfer of knowledge and provide ideas for further research. 163 J. A. Glover et al. (eds.), Handbook of Creativity © Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989 164 The Effects of Memory on Creativity Negative Effects The idea that previous experience can interfere with the development of creative solutions is supported by a variety of empirical studies. For example, Maier (1931) observed how remembering common . properties of objects can adversely affect creatIve problem solving in the classic "two-cord" or "two-string" problem. In that study, people ~ere asked to !i~ together two cords that were hangmg from a ceIlIng. The cords were positioned far enough apart so that a person could not hold one cord ",:hile reaching the other. Although the participants m that study were given numerous hints to help them generate a particular solution, Maier found that many people failed to attach an available set of pliers to one of the cords to enable it to be swung like a pendulum (making it possible to reach one cord while holding onto the other cord). Maier's observations suggest that people fail to produce the creative pendulum solution because their previous experience with pliers as a gripping device pre.vents them from thinking of the pliers as a weIght (see also Birch & Rabinowitz, 1951). The term functional fixedness is often used to describe situations (like those that Maier observed) in. which people tend to think about objects only WIth respect to their most characteristic function (e.g., Duncker, 1945). This tendency to think about objects in the way that they are most often used illustrates one way that our memory for past experiences can limit flexibility in thinking and can inhibit the production of creative solutions. There are also other ways that memory can adversely affect creativity. For example, Perfetto, Bransford, and Franks (1983) found that previous experience with a problem can adversely affect the production of creative solutions. They presented people with problems such as this: A man who lived in a small town in the U.S. married 20 different women of the same town. All are still living and he has never divorced one of them. Yet, he has broken no law. Can you explain?" (p. 25) The participants in the experiment were given clues that could help them solve the problems prior to the presentation of the problems (e.g., "A minister marries several people each week"). Perfetto and his colleagues found that people were less likely to solve this problem correctly when given a hint to PART II • COGNITIVE MODELS OF CREATIVITY use the information presented earlier if they had attempted to solve the problem first without the hint. The negative effects of trying to solve the problem without the hint were found to be problem specific; that is, previous experience with a problem only affected subsequent performance on the same problem and not on other problems presented during the experiment. The findings of Perfetto et ai. (1983) suggest that memory for previous attempts to solve a problem can inhibit creative problem solving. Previous experience with a particular problem-solving strategy also may reduce the likelihood of using alternative and more effective problem-solving strategies (e.g., Luchins & Luchins, 1950). These findings demonstrate how memory for recent events or familiar concepts and strategies can interfere with creativity in problem solving. Positive Effects The preceding discussion illustrated some of the ways in which memory can inhibit creative problem solving; however, there are clearly many situations in which previous experience facilitates creativity. For instance, it is difficult to imagine any creative work in art or science that is not related in some way to an individual's previous experience. As Weisberg (1986) pointed out, many of the events and characters portrayed in creative works (e.g., Crime and Punishment, and Tender Is the Night) appear to be based on specific personal experiences of the artists. These observations suggest that remembering can be an important part of the creative process (cf. Campbell, 1960). In other situations in which a particular experience is not the focus of creative behavior, the knowledge that is acquired through past experience is often useful in generating creative solutions (e.g., Amabile, 1983; Newell & Simon, 1972). For example, discovery of the double-helix structure for DNA by Watson and Crick required an understanding of biological concepts and X-ray diffraction techniques. Similarly, the skills that enable the artist to paint and the writer to write are also developed through previous experience. These observations suggest that the knowledge and skills that are acquired in a specific discipline provide the conceptual tools that are needed to develop creative solutions. Without that knowledge, our potential for creative works would be greatly diminished. As Amabile (1983) notes, "clearly, it is only possible to be creative in nuclear physics if one knows some-
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