The interrelation of creativity, intelligence and learning

Exploiting the Interrelation Between Creativity, Intelligence, Memory and Learning to Promote Academic Achievement

One of the more mysterious aspects of the human condition concerns how some people are enormously creative throughout their lives while others appear mired in a pattern that precludes any creative thought. In many cases, high levels of creativity are also characterized by correspondingly high levels of intelligence, memory and learning abilities. While more research in this area is needed, a growing body of evidence, indicates that creativity, intelligence, memory, and learning are interrelated. To determine how with specificity, this paper provides an exploration of the interrelations of these ideas and predicts how they can best be harnessed to enhance student outcomes. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning creativity, intelligence, memory and learning are presented in the conclusion.

Analysis of the interrelation of creativity, intelligence, memory, and learning

At first blush, the interrelation between creativity, intelligence, memory and learning appear to be intuitive. After all, memory and learning are clearly linked with intelligence, and most laypersons agree that highly intelligent people are the most creative. For instance, according to DeLellis (1999), “Many people think that creative people are born, not made” (p. 48). It is important to note, though, that conceptualizations of what it means to be creative have changed in fundamental ways over the past several decades. In this regard, Montuori and Donnelly (2013) report that, “Indeed, creativity is increasingly viewed as an avenue for exploring the adaptive responses needed in this transitional period, from individuals, communities and organizations to educational institutions, governments and social systems” (p. 58).

In fact, creativity has even become a buzzword among business practitioners seeking ways to achieve and sustain a competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive globalized marketplace and there is a growing recognition that virtually anyone can be creative under the appropriate circumstances. For example, Galagan (2009) points out that, “Once thought to be a favored and fevered state known only to artists and Einsteins, creativity today is regarded as a practical workplace tool [and] a way of using the mind to improve ideas” (p. 24).

Similarly, although many laypersons conceptualize intelligence in terms of a single score, most authorities agree that it is difficult if not impossible to accurately describe an individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ) using the single number that many such tests provide (Bouchard, 2014). According to Miller (2013), “Uncovering the neural networks involved in intelligence has proved difficult because, unlike, say, memory or emotions, there isn’t even a consensus as to what constitutes intelligence in the first place” (para. 3). Moreover, it remains unclear to what extent, if any, how the different types of intelligence are related. In this regard, Miller adds that, “It is widely accepted that there are different types of intelligence — analytic, linguistic, emotional, to name a few — but psychologists and neuroscientists disagree over whether these intelligences are linked or whether they exist independently from one another” (2013, para. 4).

A professor of psychology at University of London Institute of Psychiatry, Hans Eysenck, has studied the biological basis of intelligence extensively. Based on his research, Eysenck developed a taxonomy of intelligence that exists along a continuum ranging from genetic to social intelligence (Li, 1999). In previous research, Eysenck attempted to differentiate intelligence type (A) from intelligence type (B). According to Li (1999), “Intelligence (A) stands for basic abilities, such as learning capacity, memory, reasoning, problem-solving abilities, and so on. It is a set of ‘pure abilities’ inherent in humans” (p. 53).

By contrast, intelligence type (B) represents the actual observed level of cognitive performance (Li, 1999). In sum, the intelligence type (B) is the widely accepted view of intelligence which subsumes the intelligence type (A); however, intelligence type (B) is affected by variables including personality, education, socioeconomic status and other situational life factors (Li, 1999). Subsequent research that built on Ensenck’s original studies added intelligence type (C) which is an individual’s intelligence quotient test results (Li, 1999). The combination of these three intelligence types provides a more reliable indicator of an individual’s intelligence than a single IQ test score.

It is important to note, though, that even here conceptualizations have changed significantly over the past century. In the past, highly intelligent people may have been considered those with excellent memories who could, say, remember all 50 states and their capitals or other facts, but this information is readily available on Google and elsewhere, making the memory aspect of intelligence less relevant than in the past. Even Einstein conceded that, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination” (cited in Miller, 2011, para. 1). Likewise, an individual’s learning ability may be largely innately determined, but it can also be improved with practice (McDrury & Alterio, 2003). In fact, with proper instruction, young people can become masterful learners (McDrury & Alterio, 2003).

Taken together, it is reasonable to suggest that there is in fact an inextricable but ill-defined interrelation between creativity, intelligence, memory, and learning, and this interrelation can exploited to enhance student learning outcomes as discussed below.

Description concerning how this interrelation can be exploited to enhance student learning outcomes

It would seem reasonable to posit that students with good memories and learning abilities will have a distinct advantage over their counterparts who do not, but a sense of creativity and high levels of intelligence may offset these deficits. In fact, some researchers have even suggested that the combination of creativity, intelligence, memory, and learning represent a general biological intelligence that human beings, like other animals, use to survive in different environmental settings. For instance, according to Bouchard (2014), “Many species have evolved a general-purpose mechanism (a general biological intelligence) for dealing with the environments in which they evolved” (p. 37).

Therefore, by drawing on the nebulous but suspected interrelation between these four attributes, educators can help young learners become more proficient at their studies and gain more from their investment of time and effort than would otherwise be possible. In formulating ways to exploit the interrelation between creativity, intelligence, memory and learning, it is also important to keep in mind that a few students may possess high levels of all four attributes, but these young learners will inevitably be the exception rather than the rule. It is also noteworthy that many highly creative students may not perform up to expectations with respect to their learning abilities. For instance, Geist and Huhn (2009) report that, “Educators of young children are realizing the importance of creativity, imagination, and divergent thinking in the classroom. While many systems of schooling around the world have claim to strive for these traits, historically children that exhibited creative predilections did not always make the best students” (p. 141). In support of this assertion, Geist and Huhn (2009) cite the examples of Einstein who also said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school” and Thomas Edison who was advised by an educator that his “disarranged mind” would prevent him from achieving academic success (p. 142).

Consequently, there are no “one-size-fits-all” approaches to exploiting the interrelation between these four attributes. In some cases, though, the use of innovative teaching approaches that encourage creative solutions to problems that do not have a more than one correct answer has been shown to promote creative thinking (Eyster, 2010). In addition, the reintroduction of activities such as visual arts and music programs that have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act can help promote creative thinking (Geist & Hohn, 2009).


The research showed that there is an interrelation between creativity, intelligence, memory, and learning, but the precise function of this interrelation in academic settings varies from individual to individual. Creativity and intelligence in particular were shown to be elusive qualities that defy easy definition or quantification, but most authorities agree that higher levels of intelligence can translate into higher levels of creativity. Similarly, the interrelation between memory and learning has been well established, but even here views have been altered in fundamental ways in recent years. Certainly, there is still a need for rote memory as part of the educational process. Young people need to know their multiplication tables and natural science to understand how the world around them works, but this need has diminished in the wake of the information revolution where facts and figures are instantaneously available to anyone with Internet access. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that savvy educators will be able to discern which students possess various levels of these four attributes in order to build on these strengths to help offset any corresponding deficits.


Bouchard, T. J. (2014, March 7). Genes, evolution and intelligence. Behavioral Genetics. DOI 10.1007/s10519-014-9646-x.

DeLellis, A. J. (1999, November). Tapping creativity in others. Training & Development, 45(11), 48-53.

Eyster, L. (2010, September). Encouraging creativity in the science lab: A series of activities designed to help students think outside the box. The Science Teacher, 77(6), 32.

Galagan, P. (2009, June). Creativity and work. Training & Development Journal, 43(6), 23-25.

Geist, E. & Hohn, J. (2009, Fall). Encouraging creativity in the face of administrative convenience: How our schools discourage divergent thinking. Education, 130(1), 141-144.

Li, R. (1999). A theory of conceptual intelligence: Thinking, learning, creativity, and giftedness. Westport, CT: Praeger.

McDrury, J. & Alterio, M. (2003). Learning through storytelling in higher education: Using reflection & experience to improve learning. London: Kogan Page.

Miller, M. (2013). What is intelligence? Big Think. Retrieved from

Montuori, A. & Donnelly, G. (2013, April 1). Creativity at the opening of the 21st century. Creative Nursing, 19(2), 58-61.

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