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  • The Current UMSL

Are Creative Stereotypes a Lie?

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

By Sydne Sewald

Stereotypically, fine arts holds the gold medal for being the most creative, while the STEM tries to scrape together enough to grasp for bronze.

There have always been many mysteries about humans and how our minds work, about what makes us different from one another on a basic level. Why do some people develop allergies while others don’t? Why are some people taller than others? These specific questions have been answered by science in years past. These are things that we can’t control, so people want to know if there are things we can control. One potential question is getting looked at from a scientific perspective as we speak. “Where does creativity come from?”

For many years, the human brain has both amazed and frightened people. The general idea was that the right side of the brain was responsible for innovation and creative imagination, while the left side of the brain was responsible for logic and reasoning. This theory has led to the debate about how exactly the brain goes about processing creativity. Does creativity truly come from only one side of the brain, or does it take both sides in order to reach its full potential? Back in April of 2020, scientists went in search of an answer to that very question. A team of researchers out of Drexel University’s Creative Research Lab has found support for an answer that is complex, but not as much as you might think. The scientists conducting the study gathered musicians and recorded data about which parts of the brain were active during certain actions. When the musicians were asked to play a song according to sheet music they were already familiar with, the left side of the brain was active. On the contrary, when the musicians were asked to play freestyle with their instruments, the scans showed activity on the right side of the brain (NSF Public Affairs). This leads to the new understanding that depending on the type of situations involving creativity, both sides of the brain come out to play.

Now that it can be officially established that both sides of the brain can be considered creative, we can look at other differences such as how creativity is expressed. We will be looking to see if there is a connection between college majors and how a person expresses creativity. Or are stereotypes for certain subjects and majors just getting in the way of what’s really going on inside the brain?

The overarching question is: do stereotypes of certain fields hold true or are they just assumptions? Such stereotypes for STEM field students are that they are uncreative and they are all solely logic-driven. For fine arts students stereotypes, it is said that they are constantly creating all the time because their classes focus on using creativity. In search of some answers, I took to the University of Missouri - St. Louis to ask some recent and soon-to-be graduates some questions. I asked four STEM students and four fine arts students five questions to see if the group's answers were similar to or contradictory to these stereotypes. Looking at our first group, the STEM students consisted of one recent graduate who was accepted into pharmacy school for this upcoming Fall semester, two recent computer science graduates, and one recent graduate who holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics. For the Fine Arts group, they consisted of one linguist who earned a bachelor’s of Japanese Language, a soon-to-be graduate of economics, a student working towards a degree in communications, and an overachiever who earned a bachelor’s of history and continued on to earn a masters of History with a concentration in Museum Studies. These individuals were given questions regarding creativity and asked to answer honestly to the best of their abilities.

Each participant was given the exact same five questions to respond to, the first being the broadest of the questions and was, in my opinion, the most important. “What do you think about creativity?” This question is to get an overall image of what each interviewee thinks about this magical idea called creativity. If you follow the stereotypes, you would assume that people in STEM would think about things in a logical way because that’s how many of their courses go, while fine arts are met with classes that can force them to think outside of the box for assignments. The responses were surprising. There was a general thought that creativity was something that can drive people to do great things, that it was out of a person’s control, something that just comes to them. Some words such as, “phenomenon” “state of mind” and “spontaneous” were used to describe their thoughts on creativity. One outlier in this trend of free-formed ideology was the pharmacy student whose answer threw me for a loop. She said that creativity was something that can be created, this was the only response that spoke as though creativity was something tangible. Removing the outlier, everyone had a pretty similar view of creativity being this state of mind that comes and goes of its own accord.

The second question that was asked had to do with relaxation. Every participant was asked how they spend their relaxation time. This was simply to see what people thought about relaxation and if they leaned towards creating something in their free time or if they sought out something they would take in. The answers were extremely mixed and multiple answers overlapped between the STEM and fine arts groups. The most common answers were watching TV, reading, or listening to music. There was also one response from the STEM group and one from the fine arts group that both said they enjoyed traveling and they loom or crochet to relax. The answers were a general mix of physical things such as going on walks or cooking and more mental tasks like putting together a puzzle or playing a video game.

Something that can be a core proponent of creativity is figuring out how or where you find inspiration. When our eight interviewees were asked to think about what they do to become inspired, some had trouble answering. Some responses simply said they don’t do anything, in particular, to become inspired. Everyone that was able to find a source of inspiration spoke about getting inspired by the things around them that they enjoy interacting with. Some said they are inspired by the books they read or the shows they watch, some find inspiration in simply the world around them. These answers gave a very cohesive feeling, people randomly find bursts of inspiration as they move through their world.

Stress is something that everyone will deal with at some point in their lives, how that stress is handled can tell a lot about a person. When asked how each participant handles stress, the answers seem evenly split between three categories. Some enjoyed doing activities like working out to get rid of the physical tension, others preferred talking it out with a third party to calm down mentally, and finally a few liked throwing themselves into a craft to keep their hands busy and their mind off the stressor. It seemed that everybody had a unique way of dealing with stressful events outside of their control. Even though many may see the crafts outlet as the only objectively creative activity, it can be argued that working out or talking through something are creative activities or activities that can easily spark creative thoughts.

The last question was all about creative outlets. Everybody talked about an active outlet that allowed for self-expression. This question is where the most personalized answers were expressed. The answers showed that each participant partook in a mix of active and mental outlets. Everybody, no matter the field they are in, had an outlet that objectively required creativity. Some answers included writing stories, sketching doodles or drawing, or crocheting/ looming. Unlike the question of what inspires someone, nobody came up blank, everyone wanted to share their hobbies that they loved to do whenever they had free time. Everyone did have different levels of frequency for their hobbies, but they did list off multiple expressive hobbies that they try to do as often as life lets them.

After reviewing the answers from both groups, I think it is safe to say that if you looked at the results without knowing which group the answers came from, you would not be able to tell for sure who answered these questions. There was absolutely no division among the two groups that would suggest that the stereotypes hold any truth. All the participants showed interest in more than one activity that would be judged by the general public as being creative. In the end, I think that it is safe to say that the stereotypes about majors limiting someone’s creativity are just that. Stereotypes.


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