Executive Function and Creativity


This paper shows that creativity is directly linked to executive function in which creativity depends on executive functions such as inhibition, initiation, attention, self-regulation, planning, and working memory.  Executive function involves three skills which are cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control. They are crucial in creativity skills such as imagination, being open-minded, identifying, and solving problems. Several pieces of research have been conducted analyzing how executive function and creativity are connected many of which implies a positive connection between the two. The current study examined three executive function aspects- inhibition, updating, and shifting and how they are related to creativity. Findings were that updating and inhibition were linked to creativity. This paper will go beyond inhibition and updating and will explain several cognitive processes. It will also, state the impact of executive function in the real world and how specific executive skills are relevant to creativity.

Keywords; executive function, creativity.

The Link between Executive Function and Creativity

Creativity is a vital aspect of every human being for progress. However, not every individual is creative. Creativity is not just a cultural or social construct; it also results from psychological and cognitive processes (Khalil, Godde, & Karim, 2019). There are several reasons why creativity is related to executive functions. Considering the main functions of executive functions, they are crucial when it comes to creative thinking. These functions include planning, working memory, attention, inhibition, self-monitoring, self-regulation, and initiation (Hanning, 2017).

Planning relies heavily on visual memory and visual memory manipulation (Logie, 2003). To transform a creative thought into action, one is expected to plan. For example, if someone wants to implement a business idea, the first thing they do is develop a plan of where the capital is needed, the target market, and all that. Also, in planning, creativity goes a long way to determining whether a plan will work or not. Therefore, planning, which is an executive function, is connected with creativity.

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Working memory involves several forms of memory which include visual memory and manipulation, spatial memory, and auditory memory. Even though past studies showed that higher working memory is key for intelligence, recent studies have shown that medium working memory is crucial for creativity (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2004). This is based on Mathew Fugate’s study which indicated that students with ADHD characteristics had poor working memory but greater levels of creativity. However, another study shows that the higher the working memory, the higher the levels of creativity (Lin & Lien, 2013). It indicated that working memory involves processing multiple information at the same time and creativity also involves multiple units to come up with something unique.

Creativity and attention are related. Creativity involves the selection of information, and during this time, attention is vital. Nevertheless, research by Lindsey indicated that creative people are more distracted thus they lack attention (Carruthers, 2016). The study argued that the distraction, however, is a gateway to creative ideas. They argued that to conclude a consistent relationship between creativity and attention, some creativity measurers such as originality must be used. The conclusion was that only one measure, that is, originality showed some relationship with attention.

Self-regulation and monitoring is the ability to assess one’s performance. For one to do so, some relevant creativity skills are required. Some of those skills are identifying and solving problems, generating new ideas, and using lateral thinking. These skills help an individual identify their strengths and weaknesses, formulate possible options, and implement creative ideas to themselves.

Onto inhibition, it is the ability to control thoughts and actions. Research by the brain development research center showed that individuals who use larger portions of the prefrontal cortex when thinking come up with the most creative solutions (Dumontheil, 2014). Individuals often have different thoughts and actions when deciding to do something. Thus, the ability to know which action to take is imperative through inhibition. Therefore, inhibition is highly beneficial to creativity.

Impact of Executive Function in the Real-world

It increases the ability to read. The British Journal of Educational Psychology explains that it is important for word reading, reading comprehension, and writing ability (Cain, Oakhill, & Bryant, 2004). This applies to any individual who requires reading and writing.

Another impact is the focus. Aspects such as inhibition, working memory, attention, and planning enable one to maintain focus. People who maintain focus are likely to have high attention and planning (Baas, Dreu, & Nijstad, 2015). For example, when a child is revising, if they are attentive to what they are reading and plans their time well, they will maintain the focus.

However, the executive function may be associated with disorders that affect life activities such as learning and working. Some of the problems include difficulty in planning and completing projects, starting and developing tasks, retaining important information, and communicating sequentially, among others.

The Relevance of Executive Function Skills to Creativity

Executive function skills include inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. Inhibitory control impacts on creativity in several ways. Firstly, it is crucial in imagination. This involves refining multiple options, generating new ideas, and invention. All these factors are key determinants of creativity. Secondly, it helps in identifying and solving problems. Through invention and multiple options, an individual can establish problems and identify the best options in solving them (Weisberg, 2006).

Working memory impacts creativity by employing thinking, being open-minded, flexible, and adaptable. Creativity requires an individual to be open-minded in exploring possible options for new ideas. When memory is working as expected, an individual is also able to employ divergent thinking, which will better their performance.

Cognitive flexibility also has importance to creativity. It involves thinking out of the box and switching focus, depending on the changes in priorities. It is essential to creativity because it is a gateway to being open-minded. Also, it is vital for identifying and solving problems. One can switch their thinking depending on the type of problem at hand. If a solution does not work, it is easier to employ another strategy that will work. As creativity calls for flexibility, having a flexible cognitive is imperative.

Two Clinical Research for Executive Function

One of them is prevention research, and the other one is diagnostic research. Both of them would involve identifying underlying executive function disorders. Also, in both, the research would involve the best ways that may not harm the patients. On the other hand, prevention research involves providing medication to prevent disorders, while diagnostic research does not include medication.



To sum up, creativity depends on executive functions such as inhibition, self-regulation, working memory, attention, initiation, and planning thereby, making the two dependent on each other. For creativity to occur, planning, working memory, attention, initiation, and inhibition must all be employed. Creativity skills such as being open-minded, imagination, identifying, and solving problems require one to have an inhibitory control, a working memory, and cognitive flexibility. One of the impacts of executive function is the ability to read and focus. However, a disorder in executive function may interfere in learning activities. For this, it is imperative to employ diagnostic and prevention research to prevent problems associated with the disorder.


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