Executive function refers to the element of higher cognitive skills that allow an individual to make decisions, plan and solve problems. Together it can be defined as a set of complex processes that allow an individual to behave in a goal-directed manner. Working memory, cognitive flexibility and self- control are essential components of executive function. During childhood, working memory and self-control are the first set of functions that come into being. Later in the pre-teen years, attentional capabilities and goal-directed behaviour is set (Shivani Sharma & Nandita Babu 2017). These skills get refined as the child becomes a teenager and eventually when they are adults their cognitive abilities get enhanced significantly and they able to solve problems more efficiently and plan.
Working memory and creativity are invariably linked. This implies the close relation between executive function and creativity (Shivani Sharma & Nandita Babu 2017). Studies have shown how above-average creativity levels enhanced the executive functions of an individual. It cannot be denied that creativity is an extremely useful quality that can be beneficial in both work and play. The various facets that strengthen creativity like cognitive flexibility and thinking out of the box- these very qualities are also important parts of executive function.
The ability of an individual to think in an organised manner to achieve a goal is just as important as utilising their creativity to think out of the box. Inhibitory control, that refers to self-control is extremely important for one to focus on the task at hand. A perfect combination of cognitive inhibition and cognitive flexibility is what constitutes an ideal set of executive functions (Drever et al 2015). These are the ones that stimulate the decision-making problem solving, planning and reasoning abilities of a working adult.
Similarly, the ability to think out of the box and adapt to a changing environment depends on the creative abilities of an individual. Studies have shown how cognitive flexibility is invariably linked to high levels of creativity. Any amount of cognitive control can be directly assed by the individual's ability to shuffle between task with cognitive fluidity (Diamond, 2013). This is essential as it shows how smoothly they will be able to traverse across constantly shifting demands and rigours of the workplace.
Working memory is the part of the mind that is concerned with inhibiting one part of the brain to activate the other so that the goal can be achieved with a requisite amount of focus. Though there hasn't been enough research to show the line between how executive function and creativity are affected by age, the benefits of engaging in creative behaviour are undeniable because of the quality and richness they bring to an individual's personality (Shivani Sharma & Nandita Babu 2017).
The inhibitory control and creativity potential are extraordinary markers of individual performance that can affect efficacy levels immensely (Fisher & Specht, 1999).it helps the individual develop a deep understanding of self through reflection which are the requisites of any creative process.
This creative process alone transforms them as they can develop a sense of self-competence and increase their efficacy level. Their creativity helps the understand the essence of the situation thus helping them figuring the "essential". This can be extremely beneficial in problem-solving and conflict resolution. This is directly related to an aspect of the executive function called inhibitory control that allows an individual to refocus and only concentrate on tasks that will help them achieve the task at hand (Hasher et al 2007).
Recent studies have shown how it is the flexible modulations of the cognitive processes that help in creative actualization. This originality and fluency utilized my creativity is what helps an individual come up with out of the box ideas and concept and thus create a positive correlation with executive function (Zabelina & Robinson, 2010).
The most important aspect of creativity that links it with executive function is the ability to think of original ideas and then follow up on them. This lack of inhibition and cognitive flexibility is an extremely desirable and beneficial trait that can help individuals across all age groups. When middle-aged individuals find them in a stagnated position in their careers, they can engage in creative pursuits to stimulate their cognitive abilities and aid social interactions. The ability to innovate or to think of radical solutions for a problem is all because of creativity and these are attributes that are sought-after by many organisations (Martins & Terblanche, 2003).
To improve their level of executive function. adults will have to tap into their creative potential. This has numerous other benefits that let the individual tap into various parts of their consciousness and later enhance their perspective and quality of life. From a creative point of view not only does this improve their cognitive flexibility level but it also gives them the ability to inaccessible concept thus come up with new ideas in an organisational context (Walberg & Stariha, 1992). Building on the ideational fluency can be extremely crucial from not just a professional context but also for in the personal front as well as to aid the working memory.
Research tools like the Torrance test of creative thinking can help one evaluate the creative potential of an individual using verbal and figural tests. Through various questions, pictures, expressions, imagery and humour- the flexibility originality and the fluency of an individual can be tested. It understands the intricacies associated with analysing and assessing the complicated process of creative thought numerous perspectives. It is designed to elicit a spontaneous response in children and adults through a series of questions that will help one assess their creative potential (Runco, 2010). The pioneers of this test- J. P. Guildford and E. Paul Torrance emphasized on divergent thinking as the basis of creativity. The breaking of limits unusual visualizations, humour, the richness of imagery and colour, emotional expressiveness and articulation help in analysing the creative potential of an individual.
Another effective research tool is the Stroop test that can be used to measure the level of creativity and executive function. Stroop effect refers to the delay in response between a congruent and incongruent stimulus. It is an effective assessment tool as it helps in the assessment of an individual decision making, planning and responding abilities through its practice. Its minimal reliance upon the basic cognitive processes, such as language, visuospatial, and memory functions to determine the results can help in analysing the interplay between working memory, executive function and creativity.
The ability to respond creatively or the sense of inhibitory control may often be more developed and nuanced in an adult more than children simply because of the vast expanse of knowledge they have gathered over the years. High working memory thus becomes a product of constant interplay between creative and executive functional abilities that stimulate cognitive processes and aid social interactions.
Shivani Sharma & Nandita Babu (2017) Interplay between Creativity, Executive Function and Working Memory in Middle-Aged and Older Adults, Creativity Research Journal, 29:1, 71-77
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Zabelina, D. L., & Robinson, M. D. (2010). Creativity as flexible cognitive control. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(3), 136.
Cavanaugh, J. C., & Blanchard-Fields, F. (2014). Adult development and aging. Stamford. CT: Cengage Learning.
Martins, E. C., & Terblanche, F. (2003). Building organisational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation. European journal of innovation management.
Walberg, H. J., & Stariha, W. E. (1992). Productive human capital: Learning, creativity, and eminence. Creativity Research Journal, 5(4), 323-340.
Runco, M. A., Millar, G., Acar, S., & Cramond, B. (2010). Torrance tests of creative thinking as predictors of personal and public achievement: A fifty-year follow-up. Creativity Research Journal, 22(4), 361-368.
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