Executive Functions and Creativity in Children and Adolescents: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between Version 2 by Catherine Yang and Version 1 by Celestino Rodriguez.

Executive functions and creativity could play an important role in children’s education. Creativity is not so much what children know (intelligence) but how they use that information, how they inhibit it and how flexible they are with it. Educational interventions focused on cognitive training are needed to develop creative skills. This would also result in improvements in the students’ academic performance and in the development of skills they will need as future professionals. 

  • creativity
  • executive functions
  • intelligence

1. Introduction

The relationship between executive functions (EFs) and creativity has been thoroughly studied in samples of adults [1,2,3,4][1][2][3][4]. Many of our higher cognitive processes are put into action for us to be creative: working memory, flexibility, planning and inhibition, among others. This is why it is essential to understand the importance of EFs in creativity—taking into account the mediating value of intelligence, since it has been widely investigated in relation to creativity [5,6][5][6]. Over recent years, creativity and EFs have been highly valued and sought-after constructs in society [7], and scientific evidence shows that EFs play an important role in adult creativity [8,9][8][9].

2. Executive Functions (EFs)

EFs refer to higher mental processes allowing flexible and complex functions that direct behavior towards a goal [10]. In general, inhibition, working memory and shifting are considered the main executive processes [11] that other processes, such as planning, problem solving, etc., depend on [12].
It is well known that EFs present a common but independent variance factor, meaning that there is no perfect correlation between them [11]. This is why the three processes of working memory, inhibition and shifting should be included when evaluating EFs. Inhibition is the ability to inhibit or control automatic responses; working memory is the ability for temporary storage and processing of information; and shifting is the ability to unconsciously shift attention from one task to another [11,13][11][13].
Proper development of these EFs makes daily life easier. Additionally, a deficit in some of these functions is key to the diagnosis of some educational needs, such as ADHD [14], so much so that authors such as Filippetti and Richaud [15] claim that the development of EFs improves academic performance. This observation makes it important to know how they relate to other constructs, such as creativity and intelligence.

3. Creativity

Like with EFs, several authors [16,17,18][16][17][18] related creativity to an improvement in academic performance. In fact, creativity is one of the most widely-demanded skills in modern society in order to pursue a professional career [19].
The theoretical models that explain creativity begin with Guilford [17], who explained that creativity is made up of five components: (1) sensitivity, as the ability to quickly detect problems in order to solve them; (2) fluency, as the ability to produce a large number of ideas, words or associations; (3) flexibility, as the ability to switch from one idea to another, from one context to another, and to give varied responses; (4) elaboration, as the ability to perceive deficiencies, generate ideas and refine them to obtain new and improved versions; and (5) originality, as the ability to produce unusual ideas or responses. From Guilford, wthe researchers move on to Csikszentmihalyi [20], who noted that creativity occurs in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context considering three elements: (1) the domain, which consists of a set of rules in the culture of a society; (2) the field, which includes the individuals who give access to the field, for example, teachers; and (3) the person, who uses the rules of the field, interacts with the field and produces creativity.
Hence, creativity is a multifaceted construct which can be studied from various perspectives in the field of education. The two main forms of creativity are as follows: (1) divergent and convergent or (2) verbal and figural, although it can also be studied through its components, including fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration [21].

4. Executive Functions (EFs), Creativity and Intelligence

EFs are mainly important in generating new ideas for which flexibility is key [24][22]. This means that EFs are seen as fundamental elements for the creative process, and, hence, must be studied jointly [25][23].
This relationship has been carefully analyzed in samples of adults by many authors. Some found statistically significant results in this relationship, especially with regard to EFs, such as inhibition, working memory and flexibility [26,27,28][24][25][26].
Other authors found positive relationships in some of these EFs, for example, between working memory and creativity measured with various tasks [1,29][1][27]. It has been suggested that creativity needs information retrieved from memory to build new ideas [29][27]. The literature also indicates evidence of a relationship between inhibition and creativity, explaining that a lack of cognitive control benefits creativity, specifically with fluency and flexibility but not with originality [30,31][28][29]. Moreover, creativity seems to be related to shifting because it requires flexibility of thought to produce new and different ideas [3,26][3][24].
Many studies have demonstrated relationships between EFs and creativity, although the vast majority agree that the relationship depends on the measures used for each variable.
Finally, the intelligence–executive functions and intelligence–creativity binomial have been studied in recent years. The first seems to show more support, since authors such as Frith et al., Karwowski et al., and Silvia [32,33,34][30][31][32] found that executive tests correlate significantly with the results in intelligence tests, which leads them to affirm that the administered executive tests constitute an excellent measure of general intelligence. The intelligence–creativity binomial is more controversial, and no agreement has been reached on whether this relationship exists, but the latest studies in adults [35,36][33][34] agree that the relationship between these two constructs is significant.
Taking this into account, in order to analyze the relationship between creativity and executive functions, it is important not to leave aside the intelligence variable. Some of these studies have also assessed intelligence as a mediating variable in this relationship [30,37][28][35]. Authors such as Benedek et al. [1] showed that working memory was found to explain a notable part of the shared variance between intelligence and creativity. Benedek et al. [30][28] examined whether the relationship between EFs and creativity was mediated by intelligence. They found that inhibition primarily promoted the fluency of ideas, whereas intelligence specifically promoted the originality of ideas. Other authors have explained that working memory is a predictor of individual differences in intelligence [38][36].

5. Relationship between EFs and Creativity

Many authors [3,9,44,48][3][9][37][38] positively correlated flexibility and negatively correlated inhibition with creativity. These correlations occur because a person with high flexibility and low inhibition shows a high creative capacity. These results are on similar lines as previous studies [26[24][28],30], which found positive relationships between flexibility, inhibition and creativity, proposing flexibility as the central factor. On the other hand, there seems to be insufficient evidence for a relationship between creativity and EFs such as working memory [45][39]. These results are consistent with Sharma and Babu [28][26], who noted that previous research, such as Roskos-Ewoldsen et al. [60][40], showed that TTCT [55][41] is not demanding on working memory, leading to these results. On similar lines, authors such as Bai et al. [45][39] and van Dijk et al. [52][42] noted that attention plays an important role in creative capacity measured with AUT [17]. This effect of attention was negative and indicates that children with a lower level of attention produce more original responses. This is in line with the findings of a series of recent studies on the role of inhibition and attention, indicating that low inhibition and attention lead to higher creativity [27,37][25][35]. It is important to consider the variability in the tests used. Measures for creativity were relatively stable: TTCT [55][41], AUT [17] and CREA [56][43] were the most widely used. TTCT was used to assess figural creativity, AUT was used to assess verbal creativity and CREA was used to assess general creativity. On the other hand, in EFs, there was a lot of variability in the tests, depending on the EF being evaluated (inhibition, flexibility or working memory). It is observed that only one study evaluates EFs in a general way with the Minnesota Executive Function Scale [61][44]. To measure the different EFs, wthe aresearchers also find variability, but the most used tests are the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test [62][45] and Five-Point Test [63][46] to measure flexibility, the WISC-IV digits subtest [64][47] to measure working memory and the STROOP test [65][48] for response inhibition. This indicates that there may be room for standardization of tests to measure children’s EFs and creativity since the standardization of the measurement of these constructs would make it possible to generalize the results with greater rigor and reliability.


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