Archive for October, 2013

Last week I began this four part blog by summarising my first three blogs, whilst also adding in some additional content. These blogs focused upon the concepts of metacognition, rational thinking, confidence, integration and comprehension of information, critical thinking, creativity, self-regulated learning, and depth of understanding. I hope to use these basic concepts to further my talks over both this week and the next two weeks in order to create a comprehensive guide to areas of psychology that have real-world application and potential within our education system.

In this blog, I will talk about the link between creativity, its relationship with intelligence, personality types, and happiness. This post summarises important background reading for my next post, which shall be on problem solving and creative thinking, how they interact with each other and metacognition (Feldhusen, 1995 is a good place to start, although I shall be talking about that next week as well). I believe that the skills of problem solving and creative thinking will lead to cognitive flexibility, and that this will interact with metacognition overall, each skill helping train a person’s mind to become better at the other skills. I will also propose methods for teaching and increasing these skills to those in the education system as well.

We have already seen from my previous posts how important creativity is. From Torrance’s study it has become evident that creativity is at least, if not more important than intelligence in helping individuals succeed. A follow up study performed on Torrance’s original participants fifty years later shows that intelligence is still useful, yet only in areas of public achievement. Intelligence had no effect upon personal achievement however, whilst creativity did (Runco et al, 2010). This should come as no surprise to us, the correlation between IQ scores and creativity test scores is negligible (Kim, 2005), which implies that creative ideation and intelligent thought are very different ways of thinking. I will continue to talk about creativity, and how to nurture it within this study, as the topics I have talked about during this series of posts all aim to help an individual achieve personal success.

In 1999, Shapiro and Weisberg found that the personality traits of openness and flexibility (which is similar to cognitive flexibility, but not quite the same thing. Confusing, I know, but I’ll avoid shortening cognitive flexibility to just flexibility to avoid any misunderstanding) lead to creativity. In the study, this was seen more in people with hypomania without depression than those with depression, yet they also saw this effect happen within the normal population, indicating a link between happiness and creativity. The happier you are, the more creative you are it seems. Lyurbomirsky and King (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of studies that researched correlations between creativity and other concepts and found that chronically happy people are more creative than those who are not, which reinforces the findings of Shapiro and Weisberg, indicating that extended periods of happiness seem key to creative thinking.

Torrance’s study indicated that not just artistic minds are creative. Indeed, with the creative children that seem to have done so well in life, he may well have missed a specific part of their personality when testing their creativity. Feist (1998) found that both scientists and artists are considered more open on the Big Five personality questionnaire than the average person. Here’s where we can pull everything together:

Openness is correlated with happiness, (Furnham and Petrides, 2003), which as we already know is correlated with creativity. We also know that openness and flexibility lead to happiness. In terms of how a person thinks, it seems then that the creativity nurtured by this mindset appears to thrive best when one is happy. This means that people with this mindset will pursue a career or set of ideas that intrigues them, as this is what they wish to be most creative about, that which makes them happy, which goes to ex explain how children from Torrance’s study grew up to be scientists, and not just artists.

Whilst this open and flexible way of thinking can foster artistic talent (Guildford, 1957), it specifically aids one in being cognitively flexible (Spiro and Jeng, 1990; DeYoung, Peterson, and Higgins, 2005), as their creativity applies to the approaches they take to their given field. As such, an open and flexible mindset is one that we should help move people towards in our education system in order to allow them to attain their full potential.


DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of openness/intellect: Cognitive and neuropsychological correlates of the fifth factor of personality. Journal of personality, 73(4), 825-858.

Feist, G. J. (1998). A meta-analysis of personality in scientific and artistic creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2(4), 290-309.

Feldhusen, J. F. (1995). Creativity: A Knowledge Base, Metacognitive Skills, and Personality Factors. Journal of Creative Behavior, 29(4), 255-68.

Furnham, A., & Petrides, K. V. (2003). Trait emotional intelligence and happiness. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 31(8), 815-823.

Guilford, J. P. (1957). Creative abilities in the arts. Psychological review, 64(2), 110.

Kim, K. H. (2005). Can only intelligent people be creative? A meta-analysis. Prufrock Journal, 16(2-3), 57-66.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.

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.

Shapiro, P. J., & Weisberg, R. W. (1999). Creativity and bipolar diathesis: Common behavioral and cognitive components. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 741–762.

Spiro, R. J., & Jehng, J. C. (1990). Cognitive flexibility and hypertext: Theory and technology for the nonlinear and multidimensional traversal of complex subject matter. Cognition, education, and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, 205.



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Jesse quoted me this in a meeting with him, from a paper on education: “If I had a sick nephew, I would not take him to Socrates for treatment, I would take him to the finest University hospital in order to have him treated. If I had a nephew that needed to be educated, I would not take him to the finest University, I would take him to Socrates.”

This quote looks at the underpinnings of universities. What are they actually aiming to do? University rankings are determined by research conducted above all else. Having the best facilities and equipment run by the greatest minds is what makes a University considered prestigious. It is unique in the education system in this, as schools and colleges are ranked by the percentage of students attaining good grades in multiple fields, yet universities could produce tremendous research whilst giving poor to terrible teaching, and it can still be considered a great university. We assume because the research is conducted well, the teaching is too. Yet this is not always the case.

Jesse also spoke to me of the Socratic method, the teaching style used by Socrates that teaches purely through asking questions. You can take a concept, question it, and then improve it. Anyone who has read my previous blog will understand how this helps an individual develop the concept of deep-level-reasoning and cognitive flexibility, and how they in turn aid metacognition. One aspect that I haven’t directly connected yet is that of critical thinking. Questioning a concept directly aids your critical thinking. As a form of positive hypothesis elimination (Attaining new hypotheses by getting rid of old ones because of contradictions or problems you have found with them), it teaches you how to critique both your own ideas and thoughts (in a manner similar to metacognition), and those that you are told of or taught. Teaching a person this skill is considerably better than teaching them the fantastic (I wish there was a font for sarcasm) skill of rote memorisation. It expands their mind in so many different ways that will give them skills that are useful throughout their entire life, which I shall extrapolate on further within this blog. The information you learn throughout school may as well be meaningless, it is the skills that you use to learn it which count, and having a mindset that can take information and find ways to make it better is much better than a mind which can simply hold a lot of information in it (More on this later).

Speaking of rote memorisation, this brings me on to my second topic of this blog: Our values of intelligence. Currently, the education system believes that a mind that can hold a large amount of information is a good mind, and aims for us to have this skill. We have all experienced either college or A-levels in order to get into this university, as well as mainstream education. We are taught that having lots of knowledge makes us intelligent and ensures us a good job. Good grades means a good university which means a good degree, which means a good job, which means lots of money, which means support for your family, which means happiness, and so on. It really doesn’t seem to be this way however. Torrance created a quotient by which he measured creativity in the late 50’s. Releasing his paper twelve years after examining over two hundred children, he found a very strong relationship between a person’s creativity in both high-school and as an adult, but also between their creativity and their success in life. From careers such as inventors to diplomats, software developers, and doctors, they excelled beyond their uncreative peers. Creativity helped these children far more than their intelligence, it led them to become innovative and approach situations with a level of cognitive flexibility which enabled them to have successful careers and lives.

Creativity is largely left alone within the education system, being considered an artistic trait. If you are creative, you are artistic, rather than enthusiastic about a certain subject of interest. If this were the case, then how did the creative children from Torrence’s study become doctors? Creativity stems from enthusiasm, yet children stop asking questions of their parents once they enter school (J. Martin, personal communication, October 24th, 2013), wherein we are taught not to ask questions, but to answer them. It seems the education system has run into a huge problem. We know that creativity is more important than intelligence, but have decided to teach intelligence instead.

Creativity polymathy (The ability to be creative in more than one domain) is already considered to be fairly common, with Kaufman et al (2010) believing it to be a hierarchical system. Creativity can be taught and trained (Ansari and Berkowitz, 2010) (Limb and Braun, 2008), bypassing any speculation that some people are creative and others are not.

If there is a hierarchy of creativity, and you can be trained, then you can progress to higher levels of creativity, ensuring that you develop skills such as critical thinking, which when combined with Socratic question asking give a much deeper level of understanding of knowledge rather than pure memorisation, whilst also equipping you with skills that will aid you in all aspects of life. Critical thinking helps aid metacognition and rationality, enhancing your skills with logical thought. Question asking aids cognitive flexibility, which also helps develop creativity. These ensure that rather than learning how to memorize information and dump it after an exam you will  enable both learning and innovation, applying creativity and critical thinking to your ideas to create higher levels of polymathy, which will enable you to conceptualise and understand information at a deep level. These tools are necessary to become a pioneer, advancing both your own thoughts and those of others in order to truly understand a subject, its intricacies, its failings, its strengths, and where it can be improved.

Berkowitz, A. L., & Ansari, D. (2010). Expertise-related deactivation of the right temporoparietal junction during musical improvisation. Neuroimage, 49(1), 712-719.

Kaufman, J. C., Beghetto, R. A., Baer, J., & Ivcevic, Z. (2010). Creativity polymathy: What Benjamin Franklin can teach your kindergartener. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(4), 380-387.

Limb, C. J., & Braun, A. R. (2008). Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: An fMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS One, 3(2), e1679.

Torrance, E. (1972). Predictive validity of the Torrance tests of creative thinking. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 6(4), 236-262.

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Education aims to give us a deeper understanding of the subjects we study. It has been well established that a deeper level of processing, such as semantic processing, leads to information being stored in our long term memory for more extended periods of time (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). However, it seems that we do not just need to have a deep processing level, we need to have a deep level of understanding as well in order to create true comprehension of a subject. I will endeavour to explain how to attain a deep level of understanding in this post.

Since the 90’s, it has been clear that asking questions helps increase comprehension of a subject, as it erases misunderstandings and helps fully form an awareness of a subject within a student’s mind (Rosenshine et al, 1996; King, 1989; King; 1994). This alone creates a deeper level of understanding within a learner’s mind, yet it has not been until recently that questions asked by the presenter has been investigated.

Craig et al (2006) found that students who were asked “deep-level-reasoning questions” (questions based on possibilities, such as hypothetical reasoning questions “If we change/do this, what happens?”, and those asking for explanation of information “How does this work?” rather than just recall) significantly outperformed those who were not asked any questions when studying new material. The study emphasizes a greater comprehension of a subject due to the mental representation of the material being strengthened by the learner being asked these questions, which creates a higher level of comprehension for the student. The important part of this comprehension however is that it is integrated with our previous knowledge of a subject. This allows a learner a full overview of all knowledge that they have about a topic, both old and new.

Another key to deeper understanding of a topic is a skill known as Cognitive Flexibility. In Rand Spiro’s book: “Cognition, Education, and Multimedia: Exploring Ideas in High Technology”, he critiques “linear media” such as lectures and textbooks for their inability to teach anything past simple and well-structured content. Revisiting content in different styles (known as nonlinear media or random access instruction for its likeness to random access memory) is useful as it allows different forms of understanding, which all form together to create a learner’s comprehension of a subject. This create Cognitive Flexibility, the ability to understand a topic from many different viewpoints. Scott (1962) suggests that a level of cognitive flexibility is attained by being able to restructure your knowledge, as being able to accommodate for multiple different viewpoints upon a topic allows you to start understanding different viewpoints. Essentially, you must first make room in your mind for another way of thinking about a subject and understand that there are other viewpoints out there before you can fill that space with knowledge and understanding of a topic in a fashion different to that which you already know.

It seems that the depth of our learning is heavily influenced by our comprehension of a subject. From asking deep-level-reasoning questions to acquiring cognitive flexibility through nonlinear media and random access instruction, we can increase the depth and breadth of new knowledge which we acquire, and we can integrate it with our pre-existing knowledge to give us a well-structured centre of information for a topic.

It would appear that these things first require an intricate understanding of both our own knowledge and thoughts as well as an understanding of the information we are receiving and processing, which leads me into something I have written about in my last two posts: Metacognition. They both require a knowledge of our own knowledge. Metacognition is key to enabling us to perform both of the learning techniques I have written about, as it allows us to both observe and critique our own thoughts and knowledge, which will lead to us being able to realise when we need more than one viewpoint to understand a complex topic, as well as where we lack knowledge or have a weak understanding, and so alerts us to the need to ask questions in order to improve it.

Unfortunately, the current education system, principally lectures, does not allow these methods to be used within them. We are often given only one lecture on a particular topic, and it is approached in a linear fashion, without going over a particular topic multiple times. The questions we are asked by a lecturer, if any, require short and simple answers, without too much depth, as these require too much time to effectively answer, cutting in to what little time the lecturers are given. We are also not asked deep-level-reasoning questions as they are better suited to smaller classes, where we can effectively discuss the answer to them, which is not possible in larger lectures as it gives too much of a focus on a particular set of students.

A restructuring of the education system with a greater focus on small groups, metacognitive skills, and a more open and active approach to questions being asked both by the students and of the students, would attain a deeper level of understanding of a subject. This would not only increase a person’s intelligence, but also change the way in which they think, which would aid them in their further studies. A deep level of learning requires a person change the way they think in order to process information at a much more intrinsic level so as to gain a true comprehension of exactly what it is they are learning and how it relates and integrates with their current knowledge, making both Cognitive Flexibility, Questions, and Metacognition key parts of both education and learning.

Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 11(6), 671-684.

King, A. (1989). Effects of self-questioning training on college students’ comprehension of lectures. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 14, 366–381.

King, A. (1994). Guiding knowledge construction in the classroom: Effect of teaching children how to question and explain. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 338–368.

Rosenshine, B., Meister, C., Chapman, S. (1996). Teaching students to ask questions: A review of intervention studies. Review of Educational Research, 66, 181–221.

Scott, W. A. (1962). Cognitive complexity and cognitive flexibility. Sociometry, 405-414

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Those of you in my Science of Education module will have heard my talk on Metacognition and Rationality, which was based on my first blog post for this topic. Those of you who didn’t see it, don’t panic, I’ll be uploading the talk to this blog within the week. During the talk, I mentioned SAFMEDS cards and how they help build a person’s “Knowing of knowing”, a metacognitive thought process that helps determine a level of confidence that a person can have about their own knowledge.

Essentially, when you use flash cards or SAFMEDS (Say All Fast a Minute Every Day Shuffled), after a few sessions you will have some rough idea whether you know what is on the other side of the card or not. This generates confidence, essentially, the question you pose your self is “Do I know this? Yes or No?”. A metacognitive thinker would be confident that they knew the answer to the cards they answered correctly, and doubtful about the answers they gave to the cards that they got wrong, as this ultimately reflects their own knowledge of their thoughts, as they are aware of their own level of proficiency within a particular field.

Confidence is very important when it comes to education. It enhances motivation towards a subject (Bénabou and Tirole, 2002), which aids a person’s will to learn more about a particular topic. It also seems to have a large impact on the attitude you take to a given field (Levine and Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998) (Woodrow, 1994), which creates a cyclic process of learning, becoming confident within that field, and increasing your attitude towards it, which makes you want to learn more about it and so on and so on. Previous research conducted at Bangor University (Personal Communication, 2013) shows that confidence in your answer does lead to a “knowing of knowing”, a key skill of metacognition, which is a vital part of education as noted by my previous blog.

A person’s confidence can be misled however. Kelley and Lindsay (1993) proposed that confidence can occur due to ease of retrieval of information rather than a true level of insight into one’s own familiarity with a subject. Whilst the study itself was concerned only with the ability to answer general knowledge questions, we are as of yet unsure as to its generalisability to specific topic related questions. The level of confidence that a person has around a particular topic generates a positive effect upon a person’s perceived level of knowledge within a subject (Simonson et al. 1987), yet how can we be sure that a perceived level of knowledge is correct? Overconfidence can lead to a person mistakenly believing that they are correct when they are in fact not, a worrying area of folly for any in education.

Bénabou, R., & Tirole, J. (2002). Self-confidence and personal motivation. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(3), 871-915.

Kelley, C. M., & Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Remembering mistaken for knowing: Ease of retrieval as a basis for confidence in answers to general knowledge questions. Journal of Memory and Language, 32(1), 1-24.

Levine, T., & Donitsa-Schmidt, S. (1998). Computer use, confidence, attitudes, and knowledge: A causal analysis. Computers in human behavior, 14(1), 125-146.

Simonson, M. R., Maurer, M., Montag-Torardi, M., & Whitaker, M. (1987). Development of a standardized test of computer literacy and a computer anxiety index. Journal of educational computing research, 3(2), 231-247.

Woodrow, J, E, J,. (1994). The development of computer-related attitudes of secondary students. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 11, 307- 338

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Metacognition is thought of as “The knowing of knowing” (Flavell, 1976). It is a form of thought that governs our own knowledge of our thoughts and thought processes. With a sufficient level of metacognition, one is able to control and effectively regulate their own thoughts to a higher degree than one without it. This generates “rational thought” (Magno, 2010) (Ku and Ho, 2010). As a person knows what they are thinking and what they have already thought, they can enable higher levels of logical thinking, as well as engage in high-level planning and evaluative strategies.

This ability to create and monitor one’s rational thought is useful in many areas of psychology, but especially so within the field of education. Logical thinking will allow one to deduce which areas of a topic one understands and where one has a deficit of knowledge. Rational thought will then aid a learner in spending their time effectively learning the material that they lack, rather than repetitively going over what they already know (Hrbáčková, Hladík, and Vávrová, 2012). In terms of the high-level planning and evaluative strategies discussed earlier, one would be able to deduce effective learning techniques that work well for them, and then apply them with enough detail to each section of the material, until they have met their learning objectives.

A key part of metacognition is not just the ability to understand and effectively disseminate new information, it is also the ability to integrate that information into our own current knowledge, as it allows a person to understand how this new information relates to our previous knowledge, giving us insight into a subject and its intricacies. Metcalfe (1996) states that those without these metacognitive skills “… appear to drift about like a rudderless ship” (p. 404) when learning, not picking up all the key information that they need. Being able to gain and maintain metacognitive skills is considered to be one of the best indications of effective learning (Wang, Haertel, and Walberg, 1993) (Glaser, 1990) (Veenman, Wilhelm, Beishuizen, 2004). They are so effective because they allow a person to “…understand and control [their] learning environments” (Schraw et al, 2006, p. 111), giving a sense of “Self-regulated learning” to the metacognitive thinker, which allows them to learn effectively at their own pace.

Metacognition appears to be highly correlated to critical thinking (Magno, 2010), a form of rational, and logical thinking. Considering that these thought patterns allow a person a high level of control of their own learning, both in terms of how they learn, as well as what they choose to study, then it is clear that having a high level of metacognitive awareness will lead to a high level of rationality. Rationality is considered key to effective learning when combined with metacognitive awareness, as it allows a person to regulate, control, and monitor their own thoughts, leading to a more focused level of attention. This ensures that a person is both on topic, and critical of their own thoughts, leading to a higher degree of more in-depth learning.

Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.). The nature of intelligence ( 231 – 235). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hrbáčková, K., Hladík, J., and Vávrová, S., (2012). The relationship between locus of control, metacognition, and academic success. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences.  69, 1805 – 1811.

Ku, K. Y. L., Ho, I. T., (2010). Metacognitive strategies that enhance critical thinking. Metacognitive Learning, 5, 251 – 267

Magno, C., (2010). The role of metacognitive skills in developing critical thinking. Metacognitive Learning, 5, 137 – 156.

Metcalfe, J., (1996). Metacognitive processes. In E. L. Bjork, & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Memory (pp. 381e407). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Schraw, G., Crippen, K. J., Hartley, K. (2006). Promoting self-regulation in science education: Metacognition as part of a broader perspective on learning. Research in Science Education, 36, 111-139.

Veenman, M. V. J., Wilhelm, P., Beishuizen, J. J., (2004). The relation between intellectual and metacognitive skills from a developmental perspective. Learning and Instruction, 14, 89 – 109.

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., Walberg, H. J. (1993). Toward a knowledge base for school learning. Review of Educational Research, 63, 249–294.

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