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Creativity theories: Skinner vs. Maslow

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Creativity can be defined in many different ways because it is such a broad term. “It has been known to some as the step-child of psychology. This statement characterizes the historically difficult relationship existent between gifted individuals and society and, between science and creativity research” (Bergquist, “A Comparative View of Creativity Theories”, p.1). Therefore, gifted individuals, in any area of creativity, are the ones who show the most creativity; those who are creative are gifted in whatever they do.

Creativity occurs within a person and results in an original work of art. The individual goes through a process that leads up to his creativity, and therefore shows his creative abilities as the outcome. Whether it is shown through art, music, literature, or any other type of creative expression, the result is still a product of creative performance.

Catherine Patrick offered a systematic confirmation of the stages. The stages have become generally accepted. They are 1) preparation, 2) incubation, 3) insight (or discovery, illumination), and 4) verification or concretization. I should add that this last stage often eventuates in 5) a product (in broad sense of the term). The appearance of the product may then be followed by 6) a complex process of evaluation involving criteria of morality, of usefulness, of scientific accuracy, of originality, and of beauty. (Gotz, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, p. 299).

“Creativity is the capacity to have new thoughts and to create expressions unlike any other. Creativity is a basic element in human endeavors, such as art, music, literature, and performance” (“Creativity”, Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia). These creative expressions are the effects of a creative performance from the individual.

Others may feel there are a number of components that take part in the production of creativity. Creativity is generated within an individual because of these components working towards opening up the individual’s innovative side. This, in turn, will cause the individual to create.

Creativity includes the use of color, laughter and freedom to enhance productivity. Creativity is fun. When people enjoy what they do, they work harder. Creativity includes conscious efforts to see things differently, to break out of habits and out-dated beliefs to find new ways of thinking, doing and being. Creativity is a natural, normal aspect of healthy human beings. (“Creativity at Work”, p.1)

In addition, there are many different aspects to creativity. These aspects all come together and work towards the creating process as well as the creative result. The physiological, emotional, and mental facets all have a part in the creative processes and effects.

…Creativity in terms of physiological processes means then physical healing, physical regeneration. Creativity in emotional terms consists then of establishing, or creating, attitude changes…Creativity in the mental domain involves the emergence of a new and valid synthesis of ideas, not by deduction, but springing by “intuition” from unconscious sources. (Bergquist, “Creativity, Healing, and Shamanism”, pp.1-2)

Creativity is not something that can be defined easily. It is something that is looked at differently by each individual. Therefore, many psychologists, philosophers, and authors wrote articles and books on creativity according to their points of view. As a result of reading these articles and books, many people are then able to come up with their own point of view.

Burrhus Fredrick Skinner and Abraham Harold Maslow were two American psychologists that wrote about their views on creativity. They had very different views on creativity; yet, they were both very precise in their explanations. Both Skinner’s and Maslow’s work in The Creativity Question, edited by Albert Rothenberg and Carl Hausman, shows their differences specifically.

“Behaviorism is an excellent ‘lab animal’ but in the ‘real world’ it can not account for all creative endeavors. Its greatest strength is that experiments are precise and collect quantifiable data” (Bergquist, “A Comparative View of Creativity Theories”, p. 3). Skinner fell under this category; he had a behaviorist view of creativity.

“Generally considered the leading modern behaviorist, Skinner presents a theoretical model of the act of creation according to strict behaviorist principles” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 267). He compares two processes and the ways in which they create.

Creativity, thoughts, and emotions are unobservable internal processes; therefore, behaviorism is unable to explore the processes themselves. Radical behavioral psychology completely dismisses the concept of an ‘indwelling agent’ which creates, thinks, or feels as metaphysic and without proof. Therefore, behaviorism confines its study to the behaviors associated with these processes. (Bergquist, “A Comparative View of Creativity Theories”, p. 2)

Because of the confinement behaviorists have, Skinner compares having a poem to having a baby and the way he explains it makes sense. “Skinner quotes Samuel Butler’s suggestion that the comparison years ago when he said that a poet writes a poem as a hen lays an egg, and both feel better afterwards” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 267). Therefore, Skinner explains that the processes and outcomes of having a poem and having a baby are similar.

Skinner uses the hen as an image, but then moves on to the human mother:

When we say that a woman “bears” a child, we suggest little by way of creative achievement. The verb refers to carrying the fetus to term. The expression “gives birth” goes a little further; a bit of a platonic idea, birth, is captured by the mother and given to the baby, which then becomes born. We usually say simply that a woman “has” a baby where “has,” means little more than possess. To have a baby is to come into possession of it. The woman who does so is then the mother, and the child is her child. (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 269).

Therefore, Skinner feels that the mother goes through a process of creating the child that is within her body. This process leads to birth of the child, and this child and mother then belong to each other. His view on creating a baby is precise.

However, the biologist has a different point of view on the mother and the creating process. “She is a place, a locus in which a very important biological process takes place. She supplies protection, warmth, and nourishment, but she does not design the baby who profits from them” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 269).

The biologist’s view is somewhat correct as well; however, he feels that the mother does not design the baby. Skinner’s view contrasts the biologists in this way; Skinner feels that the mother creates the baby and designs it, but she has no control over the situation; she is not in charge of the situation, the situation is in charge of her.

“Men and women have built a world in which they behave much more effectively than in a natural environment, but they have not done so by deliberate design” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 273). This shows how creation occurs without deliberate “making”. Therefore, Skinner feels that humans create without it being intentional.

According to Skinner, there is much similarity between the two acts and processes of having a poem and having a baby. Skinner feels as though the ways in which the mother creates the baby is similar to how a poet creates a poem. They both create through a series of steps, they both go through a gestation period, they both compose their results, and both produce a beautiful outcome. In this way, Skinner’s comparison is quite correct, and it shows the similarities accurately.

The poet is also a locus, a place in which certain genetic and environmental causes come together to have a common effect. A poem seldom makes its appearance in a completed form. Bits and pieces occur to the poet, who rejects or allows them to stand, and who puts them together to compose a poem. But they come from his past history, verbal and otherwise, and he has had to learn how to put them together. The act of composition is no more an act of creation then “having” the bits and pieces composed. (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., pp.269-270).

Skinner shows that the processes both have a gestation period in which the baby and the poem are able to grow. The baby advances physically by means of the baby growing and each of the baby’s little parts getting larger day by day. The poem grows by the author’s thoughts being added day by day, one by one, little by little.

Basically, the only difference between the two processes is that the author is able to change parts, and have complete access to the poem during gestation, while the mother cannot. She has no real access to her baby throughout the process of gestation. Other than that, these two processes prove to be very similar in process and result.

However, I concur with Silvano Arieti’s description of Skinner’s work: People like B.F. Skinner have characterized man as being molded, conditioned, and programmed by the environment in rigid, almost inescapable ways. Skinner should be appreciated for having shown the extent to which man can be affected in this manner; but…we must stress man’s ability to escape his fate. Creativity is one of the major means by which the human being liberates himself from the fetters, not only of his conditioned responses, but also of his usual choices. (Bergquist, “A Comparative View of Creativity Theories”, p. 3)

Skinner’s point was that the creators are not in charge of their situations of creation. The creation was produced through the individual’s abilities, however, he really was not in charge of it at all. These creative individuals, in essence, do not make their own decisions.

“Jerome Weisner sums up a speech he made by saying, ‘You think you’ve chosen the rewards; you haven’t. The rewards have chosen you” (Rothenberg and Hausman, p. 269). Therefore, people do not choose what is going to happen to them, it is just something that happens within them; this is not under their control. Skinner feels as though the individual comes into possession of whatever he creates; it comes to him.

“The “Law of Effect” followed and formulated by E. L. Thorndike says that reward strengthens responses and failure to reward weakens them. Thorndike, and later B. F. Skinner, continued to study how these consequences, e.g., reward or lack of reward, influenced behavior over time. This conditioning is termed operant conditioning. Operant conditioning and unconscious memories are the primary elements in a behavioral explanation of creativity.

This is what Skinner meant when he said that the individual does not control the situation and that they are not in charge of it. This is a behaviorist’s point of view on creativity, however, there are many other views on creativity. Abraham Maslow shows us the humanistic point of view.

“‘My feeling is that the concept of creativeness and the concept of the healthy, self-actualizing, fully-human person seem to be coming closer and closer together, and may perhaps turn out to be the same thing’ (Maslow, 1963)” (Bergquist, “A Comparative View of Creativity Theories”, p.3). Maslow focused more on the self-actualized individual rather than anything else within creativity. According to Maslow, being creative and becoming self-actualized is all part of being a healthy human being.

Maslow also thought the creative and the esthetic went together. “The ‘creative’ (and ‘esthetic’) applies to products, but also to people in a characterological way, and to activities, processes, and attitudes—and to many products other than the standard and conventionally accepted poems, theories, novels, experiments, or paintings” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 87).

Maslow wanted to distinguish between “special talent” and “self-actualizing” creativeness. “Maslow feels that spontaneity plus expressiveness leads to creativity” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 88). Therefore, one does not need to have a special talent in order to be creative, produce something creative, or possess creativity; people that do not posses a special talent can be creative as well.

Self-actualizing creativity stresses first the personality rather than its achievements, considering these achievements to be epiphenomena emitted by the personality and therefore secondary to it. It shows boldness, courage, freedom, spontaneity, perspicuity, integration, self-acceptance, all of which make possible the kind of generalized self-actualized creativeness, which expresses itself in the creative life, or the creative attitude, or the creative person. (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., pp. 88-92).

Therefore, the self-actualized person is creative in his own way, not because he was born with a special talent that made him creative. This type of creativity is more original and shows more creativity, because it is different. It is different from the special talent creativity, and it proves that the individual is healthy.

“Maslow realized that he was thinking of creativeness in terms of products and that he had unconsciously confined creativeness to certain conventional areas only of human endeavor, unconsciously assuming that any painter, any poet, any composer was leading a creative life” (Rothenberg and Hausman, p. 87). An individual can be creative without being “a title”, such as a poet, artist, painter, or composer. Therefore, all people are creative in their own way.

“Self-actualized is synonymous with health itself, which is defined as the coming to pass of the fullest humanness, or as the “Being” of the person” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 92). “Humanists, like Abraham Maslow (1962, 1968) and others, view creativity as the actualization of the healthy self” (Bergquist, “Creativity, Healing, and Shamanism”, p. 5). The healthy self shows that a person is happy and content in life; in order to have a healthy life, one must be happy and content so he can become a self-actualized person.

Maslow believes that a person should do what he is capable of doing. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can do, he must do” (“Abraham Maslow”, p.1). However, he also felt that other things must be taken care of before becoming self-actualized.

Self-actualization, as he called it, is the highest drive, but before a person can turn to it, he or she must satisfy other, lower motivations like hunger, safety, and belonging. The hierarchy has five levels: 1) Physiological (hunger, thirst, shelter, sex, etc.), 2) Safety (security, protection from physical and emotional harm), 3) Social (affection, belonging, acceptance, and friendship), 4) Esteem (also called ego). The internal ones are self-respect, autonomy, achievement, and the external ones are status, recognition, and attention. 5) Self- actualization (doing things). (“Abraham Maslow”, p. 1).

Once all of these more important things are taken care of, then the individual is able to be creative and be self-actualized. “Maslow defines self-actualization as living on the sacred level in everyday life without denying the bodily life” (www.bigsurtapes.com/tex7b.html, p. 2).

Maslow points out that the hierarchy is dynamic; the dominant need is always shifting. For example, the musician may be lost in the self-actualization of playing music, but eventually becomes tired and hungry so he or she has to stop. Moreover, a single behavior may combine several levels. For example, eating dinner is both physiological and social….Satisfaction is relative. Finally, a satisfied need no longer motivates. For example, a hungry man may be desperate for rood, but once he eats a good meal, the promise of food no longer motivates. (“Abraham Maslow”, p. 1).

Therefore, once all of these needs are taken care of, the individual is able to be self-actualized and creative.

“Maslow found it necessary to distinguish ‘special talent creativeness’ from self-actualizing creativeness’, which sprang much more directly from the personality, and which showed itself widely in the ordinary affairs of life, for instance, in a certain kind of humor” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., pp. 87-77). Maslow found that the self-actualized individuals were more open and less criticizing than other people, as well as more spontaneous and expressive than the average person. Another assertion is that self-actualized people are creative in a way such as a happy, secure child would be. This does not necessarily mean that they are more creative, or that they create more, but that they create differently than the average person.

The fully developed individual can perceive simultaneously the opposites, the dichotomies, the polarities, the contradictions and the incompatibilities. It is as if less developed people lived in an Aristotelian world in which classes and concepts have sharp boundaries and are mutually exclusive and incompatible, e.g. male-female…A is A and everything else is not-A in the Aristotelian logic, and never the twain shall meet. But seen by self-actualizing people is the fact that A and not-A interpenetrate and are one, that any person is simultaneously…male and female.—Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 39″ (Gotz, Creativity: Theoretical and Socio-Cosmic Reflections., pp.125-126).

“Maslow summarized up the self-actualized creativeness by saying that it stresses first the personality rather than its achievements, considering these achievements to be epiphenomena emitted by the personality and therefore secondary to it” (Rothenberg and Hausman, eds., p. 91). The self-actualized person may be different from the average creator, but they are still creative and sometimes they are better because of the healthy self that goes along with their self-actualized self.

Therefore, Skinner and Maslow’s ideas on creativity were quite the contrary. We see here the differences between the behavioristic view and that of the humanist; the behaviorist focuses more on behaviors that produce creativeness, while the humanist focuses more on the unconscious drives that exist within the self-actualized person.

Although these two views are very different in thinking, they both make sense. Combining the two views, I feel that creativity is something that everyone has within themselves, yet the processes and results are all different. Creativity is something that forms over a time, and although people have proven to be very distinct, each and every person in the world is creative, yet creative in their own way.

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