AUG 16, 2015 09:54 PM PDT

Autism and Creativity: Related?

People with high levels of autistic traits are more likely to produce unusually creative ideas, according to Psychologists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Stirling in the United Kingdom. The researchers discovered that people with high autistic traits produced fewer responses when generating alternative solutions to a problem, but the responses they did produce were more original and creative. The study, which was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and reported in Science Daily, is said to be the first to find a link between autistic traits and the creative thinking processes. 
Autistic people use creative solutions to problems, which surprised researchers.
The research examined people who have high levels of behaviors and thought processes typically associated with autism. According to co-author Dr. Martin Doherty, from UEA's School of Psychology, "People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity but greater quality of creative ideas. They are typically considered to be more rigid in their thinking, so the fact that the ideas they have are more unusual or rare is surprising. This difference may have positive implications for creative problem solving."

Previous studies that used the same tasks showed that most people use simple, undemanding strategies to produce the obvious answers first. Then, according to the article, “they move on to more cognitively demanding strategies, and their answers become more creative.” According to the new research, people who have high autistic traits go directly to these more difficult strategies for finding a solution.

As Dr. Doherty explained, "People with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way. They might not run through things in the same way as someone without these traits would to get the typical ideas, but go directly to less common ones. In other words, the associative or memory-based route to being able to think of different ideas is impaired, whereas the specific ability to produce unusual responses is relatively unimpaired or superior."

Doherty believes that the research addressed an apparent paradox: that in a condition characterized by restricted behavior and interests, some of the best known people with autism seem to be unusually creative. The research could help scientists to understand more about the relationship between autistic traits and how the brain adapts to problem solving in the general population.

What is creativity? According to researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School, “Creativity can quite simply be defined as the capacity to come up with new ideas to serve a purpose. Creativity is thus one of the most important sources of renewal. Creativity contributes to innovation and improvements in working life, commerce and industry. No wonder employers want creative employees in areas where it is essential to come up with proposals for new products and services, and new ways of doing things.” In an article in Science Daily in 2013, the researchers tried to come up with a profile of creative people.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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