Mednick’s Associationist Theory of Creativity (and others)

Associationism was in its early days a philosophical approach that claimed that human thought worked by associating one state with other successor states.

British associationists, including John Locke and David Hume, Argued that this principle of association applied to all mental processes, and ideas were associated in the mind according to certain laws, including the law of continuity and the law of similars.

How is this concept associated with creative processes? For this we have examine associationist theory of creativity.

Sarnoff Mednick’s ideas

The Law of Continuity postulates that ideas that have been experienced together tend to appear together in our mind (for example, when a situation evokes a feeling or a person’s memory).

The law of resemblance, on the other hand, holds that psychic contents that have a similarity tend to manifest together in our thinking (for example, when a photo of someone evokes traits of their personality).

In 1962, Sarnoff Mednick published his associative theory of the creative process, In which he argued that creative thinking was the process by which disparate elements come together in new combinations to craft a proposition useful for the individual or society. Combining more distant elements is considered more creative than combining more similar elements.

Serendipity, similitude and meditation

Mednick argued that the individual can produce creative solutions through one of the three processes: serendipity, similitude or meditation. Serendipity would be a process of accidental association, similarity would be by evocation between two elements and meditation would produce evocation by presenting three or more elements.

This author also identified different variables, especially differentials, that could help increase the likelihood of arriving at a creative solution or forming a new partnership. In this way, a basis was created for the psychological study of the creator from an associationist theory of creativity.

The remote association test

Apparently, one of the advantages of association theory applied to creativity is that it could be put to the test. In 1967, Mednick operationalized the associative definition of creativity using the Remote Association Test (RAT), Which is a widely used tool in creative thinking research even today.

In their study, the Mednick team reported high reliability values ​​of the RATAs well as a positive correlation between high RAT scores and high mental flexibility, while low RAT scores were linked to highly dogmatic individuals. Subsequent studies have found a strong correlation with the Creativity Rating Scale (CRS), while there does not appear to be a correlation between the RAT and the Miller Analog Test (MAT) or cumulative grade point average. (GPA).

Creativity test reviews

Despite the intensive use of the RAT in the study of creativity, the instrument was not without criticism. One of them aims to omit the effect that an individual’s motivation may have on the score, as well as other factors intrinsic to the person, such as their past experiences. It was also found that a high RAT score is significantly related to other cognitive variables such as verbal ability.

Likewise, associative theory as a whole presents its detractors as well. Among them, Daniel Fasko, who argues that the associative theory of creativity is too simplistic to address the complexity of this psychological phenomenon.

Alexander Bain and the concept of incubation

One of the proposals on creativity that arose from associationism is the idea of ​​incubation proposed by Alexander Bain.

This author suggests that incubation occurs when new combinations of elements emerge from ideas that already exist in the mind of the individual. From this perspective, creation from nothing would be impossible, since creation is understood as an act of combining, in a new way, the substrate stored in the minds of individuals.

Fortuitous learning

Other authors stress the importance of the process of forming, retaining and employing associations not only for creativity, but also for accidental learning, the understanding by incidental learning of a situation in which seemingly irrelevant ideas or relationships tend to be associated later causing a change in the knowledge of the individual and / or in his behavior.

In this sense, it is understood that a creative person will demonstrate better fortuitous learning.

To explain the possible link between creativity and accidental learning, two hypotheses have been put forward: (a) a highly creative individual has a greater perceptual sensitivity to seemingly irrelevant stimuli; and (b) the highly creative person can retain the stimulus better and make it more accessible later, in order to use the information in an incidental learning task (Laughlin, 1967).

Creative thinking seen from associationism

In short, from the point of view of associationism, creative thinking is the result of a mental process in which disparate elements come together in a new way. resulting in a proposition useful to the individual or the environment, Or solve any problem.

According to associationists, ideas successively lead to other ideas and this continuum of connections constitutes the general functioning of the mind.

From this perspective, any associative theory of creativity will focus on analyzing the ways in which these ideas can be generated and on how these ideas are intertwined in our minds.

At present, there is a consensus that expanding the number of options or elements, so that a wide variety of associations can be generated, facilitates creativity. In fact, many of today’s theories of creativity place the key to the creative process, precisely, in the association of ideas proposed by Mednick.

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