CAPACITY, POTENTIAL, AND ABILITY: INTEGRATING DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO STUDYING ANIMAL VS HUMAN CREATIVE PROCESSES

Abstract


For all of the differences between studying animal and human creativity and innovation, there are enough similarities that we can gain insight by integrating both perspectives. Both research approaches focus on creative ability, but animal studies favor the concept of creative capacity whereas human scholars prefer the idea of creative potential. We explore here the implications of these differences and what each field can learn from the other.

The difference between creative capacity and potential may seem to be one of semantics. Yet exploring why studies human creativity tend to focus on the concept of “potential” and why animal creativity tends to emphasize “capacity” sheds light on how the two areas of study can inform each other. Both concepts can work together to give insight into how capacity and potential can become ability.In the study of human creativity, a core concept is the distinction between little-c (everyday creativity) and Big-C (eminent creativity). Many of the legends in the field focused on little-c, which was sometimes called creative potential [55]. The little c/Big-C split has more recently been transformed into the Four C Model [36], which traces the progression of a creative life from mini-c (personal creativity) to little-c to Pro-c (expert- level creativity) to Big-C. Mini-c specifically includes insights or thoughts that are personally meaningful to the creator but which may not seem to be creative to the outside world [4]; the entire category is explicitly focused on creative potential. Someone could be mini-c creative without ever putting a thought on paper or even articulating an idea to another person.A large percentage of creativity research is aimed at turning creative potential into ability [15]. Whether in the form of teacher advice [5] or workplace guidelines [2], a great deal of energy is spent trying to move humans from showing creative potential to expressing creative ability. The question of human creative capacity is rarely addressed. Some theories outline the basic requirements needed to be creative [3], such as some level of intelligence and motivation and an environment that at least tolerates creativity; these might be considered to be the minimum capacity needed for creativity. Further, many discussionsof Big-C touch on creators who represent the best or epitome of greatness in a given field [19; 54]. Yet in general, the idea of creative capacity is not one that inspires much discussion.In contrast, capacity is an important component of non-human animal (henceforth “animal”) research. The term typically refers to a creature’s inherent physiology and genetic makeup. As such, capacity can encompass a working neural system, the ability to create and use energy, genes which code for the proper proteins, and motor abilities. Observing an animal in its natural habitat may yield evidence of its abilities, but not its capacities [42; 56]. Although an animal may stretch itself to its full capacity under extreme duress in order to survive, it is not adaptive for an animal to push itself to such intensity on a daily basis. Natural selection favors the creatures who do “good enough” - ones which do better than those who are competing for the same resources, but not so much better as to waste valuable resources [22]. If traditional means of obtaining the basic necessities are working, there is no benefit to finding new ways to hunt or forage. One might make the analogy to humans who are at the lower end of Maslow’s [43] hierarchy of needs. If one’s focus is on obtaining adequate food and shelter, creativity for its own sake may seem like a luxury. Creativity can be seen more as a problem-solving tool to find a better path to survive [34].Nonetheless, there are some animals who express creativity in the process of obtaining their basic needs. The Japanese Macaque nicknamed Imo [38] learned to wash her potatoes in a nearby stream to rid them of sand - instead of wiping off the grit, as the others did. Imo’s behavior soon spread to the rest of the group via observational learning, essentially creating a cultural practice among that group. Other animals adopted Imo’s creative behavior. It is obviously impossible to determine if her peers viewed her as creative, but it is reasonable to posit that they recognized the utility of her novel behavior. In fact, even their recognition of Imo’s solution being different could qualify as a lower-level act of creativity [33; 37]. By the Four C model Imo would easily qualify as little-c. At a subsequent time, when researchers presented her rice mixed with sand (in an unrelated experiment), Imo threw handfuls of the mixture in the water [38] (Kawai, 1965). Her actions caused the rice to float and the sand to sink, thereby cleaning her food faster and enabling an easy snack. Given Imo’s repeated innovations, she could be argued to be Pro-c [36; 37].What was Imo’s motivation? If she were a person, we could simply ask her. We know that people create for many reasons - tangible rewards, personal passion, or altruistic principles [16]. Intrinsic motivation is often thought to best promote creativity [25], in part because it can free people from worrying about situational contexts [1]. The added attentional resources can then allow people to better focus on a specific task. Without the ability to obtain a deeper understanding of a penguin’s purpose, however, it is hard to determine if they are ever creative for enjoyment’s sake.Consider play; in humans, imaginative play is an important determinant of future creativity [51] and yet still part of childhood development [50] and adult leisure [23]. In animals, it is more likely to have a specific goal, such as social rehearsal, the reinforcement of group status, or the refinement of predatory skills [8]. There are behavioral interactions that do not fit traditional categories and might be done to amuse [8], but even these are not always clear.From a strictly biological perspective the reasons to be creative are limited. Imo’s resources might have been low (and a new foraging technique would have led to additional food). Maybe Imo was trying to impress a mate. However, neither of these things seem likely. All we know is that her basic needs appeared to have been met, yet she still chose to solve a puzzle.Creatures who innovate in the wild often come from subordinate members of a group and subsequently have more time on their hands [49]. They are not defending territory or mates, and they have more to gain if their efforts are successful (such as the very lowly ranked chimp who used metal trashcan lids in a dominance display), and less to lose if they fail [41].In the lab, the situation changes. Competition for everyday needs is gone; everyone has sufficient food, water, and shelter. Resources can be abundant. Under these settings, cognitive experiments can encourage an animal to use its full capacity. Again, to follow the Maslow [43] analogy with humans, the lab might represent a setting in which the basic levels of needs have been reached, allowing questions of esteem and actualization to be addressed (perhaps via creative expression).The key potential-capacity discrepancy emerges when an animal is studied in a lab who turns out to have extraordinary abilities. Such animals can become the sole focus of an investigation. In this type of “power study” [56], as it is sometimes called, it is difficult to generalize behavior or even the potential for behavior to others in the species. The animals who warrant such extensive investigation are producing behavior so far above the average standard that if they were human, they would be labeled brilliant.However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that all members of the same species share the same capacity for such behavior, even if it is unlikely or even impossible for them all to reach the same potential, even accounting for comparable environmental stimulation [42]. This concept in research dates back at least 35 years:A power study, because it depends on the behavior of one or a few individuals to provide evidence for the existence of a given conceptual ability, does not permit inter- or intra-species comparisons. Yet, tabulating or statistically comparing the relative success and failures of multi-individual samples of animals would not identify the intellectual capacity of a species satisfactorily and, in fact, is often quite misleading. If one individual can consistently and reliably demonstrate a given level of concept attainment, the performance is proof that this level is within the capacity of the species. Many failures by other individuals cannot invalidate this conclusion; they may identify the typical performance of a species, but not the conceptual ability of the species [56, pp. 135-136].Consider that every parrot has the same neural structure as Alex, the African Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) who could sum numbers zero to six, used and created labels for objects, and understood the concepts of same and different [45-47]? Or that every bonobo (Pan paniscus) metabolizes glucose in the same way as Kanzi, the bonobo who acquired language without direct training [53]. The difference is that the African rainforest doesn’t stretch parrots or primates to their highest potential for cognitive reasoning or language development. The laboratory can offer this type of environment, and many researchers thus argue that these individual differences in ability are due to the specific circumstances [42; 44]. The only variable separating an average African Grey or bonobo from being an Alex or Kanzi - from reaching, one could argue, Big-C - is opportunity.Human creativity researchers do not use the same arguments. When scholars study eminent creators such as Charles Darwin [21] or Pablo Picasso [19], it is with the hope that we might learn from how such eminent people created - not with the expectation that we are all potential geniuses with appropriate prompting. As a result, perhaps, we focus more on potential than on capacity. It is impossible to place all humans in a laboratory settings designed to maximize cognitive and creative capacity; as such, we devote more time to determining which specific techniques, environments, or behaviors may best lead to increased creativity. We are thus focused on improving an individual’s potential, rather than outlining humankind’s capacity for creativity.As a result, human researchers tend to emphasize individual differences. Extensive studies are conducted on how creativity is predicted or related to such constructs as personality [14], motivation [24], intelligence [31], or self-beliefs [32]. Certain individual difference variables are considered necessary but not sufficient for creativity [35] and others are seen as being closely linked (such as openness to experience [13]). We can’t manipulate every aspect of a human’s environment (at least, not ethically), so we focus on the variables we can nurture - or, at least, the ones we can measure.New animal research, however, is beginning to provide a basis for individual differences in behavior across several species. Much of the research on personality, intelligence and animal innovation is conducted on dolphins [12; 28; 29; 40; 48] and primates [11; 18; 59]. There is even an intelligence test for primates, the Primate Cognition Test Battery [9; 27; 57]. Birds are have also shown individual differences in personality [17; 26], and there are other species that have shown personality differences, including some unexpected ones such as mongooses [52] and spiders [20; 30; 39]. Could Alex’s cognitive prowess be due in part to individual differences in personality or intelligence that separated him from other African Grey parrots? Perhaps Kanzi was able to learn to use language with such skill not simply because of an environment that provided ideal stimulation but because she was smarter or more open to experience than other bonobos.Relationships have already been established between personality traits and animal behavior. For example, conciliatory behavior is positively correlated with the likelihood of switching social partners in primates [58]. Similarly, colonial living spiders who participate in communal prey capture demonstrate higher aggression levels [20].Other studies also include elements related to creativity and innovation, such as neophobia. For example. a study of attention bias in parrots found that birds with high neuroticism scores took longer to get used to new people and had trouble attending to food when there was a perceived threat [10]. Hyenas who are more neophobic are worse solvers [6]. A recent particularly relevant study examined physiological states in birds and then measured their problem solving abilities. A specific set of physiological results - low corticosterone, high amounts of the antioxidant glutathione, and lower parasite load - were associated with higher levels of problem solving [7].There is much to learn from communication across disciplines. Interdisciplinary collaborations often instinctively understand that methods or broad theories are different. Yet taking a larger view and looking at the subtle nuances in underlying basic assumptions across fields is not an obvious step. As we have reviewed the literature on human and animal creativity, we have seen the core assumptions that lead human studies to emphasizethe route from potential to ability and animal studies to focus on how capacity enables ability. Animal studies are already considering the role of individual differences and, as a result, how potential may interact with the capacity-ability connection. If this work continues to progress, we can gain a broad understanding of which individual differences are associated with higher creative and innovative performance. We may soon, perhaps, be able to explain exactly why your dog or cat is not quite as bright, curious, investigative, playful, or even creative as your neighbor’s pets.Meanwhile, it may be time for human creativity researchers to consider the idea of creative capacity. We so often use a Mozart or Einstein to illustrate why and how the average person is not a creative genius, or else to propose a false equivalence between a legendary work of art or science and the ordinary person’s attempt at crafts that would only be of interest to family and close friends. Yet if a Da Vinci or Martin Luther King or W. B. Yeats were able to produce their creative brilliance with the same basic cortical structures, how terrible can it be to consider that all that separates any of us from such outcomes is the right combination of opportunity, effort, and luck?

James C Kaufman

Neag School of Education University of Connecticut

Author for correspondence.
Email: psyj@rudn.university
2131 Hillside Road, Storrs, CT 06269-3007, USA

Allison B Kaufman

University of Connecticut, Avery Point

Email: psyj@rudn.university
1084 Shennecossett Rd., Groton, CT 06340, USA

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Copyright (c) 2016 Кауфман Д.К., Кауфман Э.Б.

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