If you believe that great scientists are the most creative when young, there is a missing storyline.
A new study by Nobel Prize winners reveals that there are two different life cycles of creativity, one that strikes some people early in their career and the other that attacks more often later in life.
In this study, the early peak was found for laureates in the mid-20s and later peaks for those in the mid-1950s.
The research supports the previous work of authors who have discovered similar models in art and other sciences.
"We believe that what we found in this study is not limited to the economy, but it can also apply to creativity more generally," said Bruce Weinberg, chief researcher and professor of economics at Ohio State University.
"Many people believe that creativity is exclusively related to young people, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you are talking about."
Weinberg completed the study with David Galenson, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. Their study appears in a special issue of the journal De Economist.
In the study, Nobel Laureate winners who had their most remarkable work at the beginning of their career were trying to be "conceptual" innovators.
These types of innovators "think outside the box," causing conventional wisdom and suddenly new ideas emerge. Conceptual innovators tend to run early in their careers before becoming engaged in already accepted field theories, said Weinberg.
But there is another kind of creativity, he said, which is among the "experimental" innovators. These innovators accumulate knowledge through their careers and find this way to analyze, interpret and synthesize that information in new ways of understanding.
The long periods of trial and error required for important experimental innovations tend to emerge late in the Nobel Prize's career.
"Whether you reach your creative peak early or later in your career depends on whether you have a conceptual or experimental approach," said Weinberg.
The researchers took a novel, empirical approach to the study, which included 31 laureates. They deployed the laureates to the list from the most experimental to the most conceptual.
This ranking was based on specific, objective characteristics of the sole most important work of laureates that indicate a conceptual or experimental approach.
For example, conceptual economists tend to use assumptions, evidence, and equations, and have a mathematical contribution or an introduction to their papers.
Experimental economists rely on a direct conclusion from the facts, so their papers tend to have more references to specific subjects, such as places, time periods, and industries or goods.
After the classification of laureates, the researchers determined the age in which each laureate made his most important contribution to the economy and could be considered at his creative peak.
They did so through a convention on how academics assess the value and impact of research work. Paper is more influential in the field when other scientists mention or cite paper in their work. Thus, the more quotes accumulate paper, the more influential.
Weinberg and Galenson used two different methods to calculate the age at which the laureates were quoted and thus topped their creativity.
Both methods found that conceptual laureates reached the peak of about 29 or 25 years. The experimental laureates reached a peak when they were approximately twice old – about 57 in one method or in the mid-50s in the other.
Most other studies in this area have studied differences in the peak times of creativity among disciplines, such as physics versus medical science. These studies often find little variation across disciplines, with creativity at the peak in the mid-30s to the early 40's in most scientific fields.
"These studies attributed the differences in creative peaks to the nature of scientific fields, not to scientists who are doing the work," Weinberg said.
"Our research suggests than when you are the most creative is less a product than the scientific field you are in and is more about how you are approaching the work you are doing."
I broke scientific discoveries that are no longer dominated by many young people: study
Creativity is not just for young people, the study findings (2019, April 26)
taken on April 26, 2019
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