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Does allowing children to become bored boost their creativity?


Dr Teresa Belton, a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, says that children should be allowed to become bored in order to develop their creative abilities.  I disagree profoundly with this.  Dr Belton interviewed authors, artists and scientists in her research, and I believe has been heavily influenced by authors who told her they began writing because they had northing else to do.  I can certainly agree that turning on a TV or a computer as a way to overcome boredom can divert a child from what might be creative thoughts, but I take the view that creativity flourishes under stimulus, rather than from the lack of it.  When someone is exposed to ideas and processes them, the brain can contemplate ideas that might be as well as ideas that are.

In a chapter of my PhD thesis, “Trial and Error and the Idea of Progress,” I noted that societies which had produced spasms of great creativity were often ones which had been rapidly thrown into extended contact with others.  This was true of the Athenian silver empire, the Italian merchant princes, and Scotland’s admission into English trading markets after the Treaty of Union.  I suggested that what was once seen as the way of doing things now came to be seen as a way of doing things.

“The stages by which an isolated society is transformed by cultural contact into a critical and improving one can be described by the psychological steps which are taken. Contact leads to appreciation of alternatives; consideration of alter­natives leads to comparison; comparison leads to evaluation; evaluation to criticism; criticism to improvement. It is but a short step from the consideration of actual alternatives to the postulation of hypothetical ones, from proposing the adoption of practices which prevail elsewhere to the suggestion of prac­tices which exist only in the imagination.”

I rather think that this is how creativity works in the individual.  Contemplation and comparison of the “what is” can leap to become contemplation of “what might be” as the imagination takes its jumps.  But it is under stimulus that this happens, rather than under lethargy.  The active mind processes stimuli and possibilities leap into the spaces between and beyond them.


3 Responses

  1. Might this be just a problem with lumping too many different processes under “creativity”?

    Furthermore, I don’t think that having time to cultivate a rich inner life as a child, prevents you from being stimulated as an adult.

    What I take to be dr Belton’s message is more that creativity needs space and time. There is no lack of stimuli today, but there is a pressing need to make room for your subconscious to process ideas and make e creative assosiations.

  2. To put it another way: there is a limit to how far adding stimuli boosts creativity. At some point you lose the time to reflect. And if you never learn the skills to reflect – and being bored as a child might be one way to learn that – your creativity will suffer. Does that make sense?

  3. Your comments above sit comfortably with the following written by Adam Smith over a couple of hundred years ago.

    ‘ In every permanent situation, where there is no expectation of change, the mind of every man, in longer or shorter time, returns to it’s natural and usual state of tranquility. In prosperity, after a certain time, it falls back to that state; in adversity, after a certain time, it rises up to it ‘.

    I think Madsen will be familiar with Adam Smith.

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