Frederic Kiernan – from the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music – is the Research Coordinator of the Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative from The University of Melbourne. I found out about this Initiative during one of my online researches on the topic of Energy Psychology which culminated in this article. This is a theme I am passionate about and that I feel it is of great importance for the future of Mankind.
Frederic agreed to be interviewed on the Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative to share more about the investigations taking place and the role of creativity in people’s health and wellness. This research covers a wide number of disciplines and I believe it should be an inter-cultural investigation. It’s a topic that has a lot to explore and that will set up the basis for the societies and lifestyles we will live in in the future.
1 – What is the goal of the Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative?
The goal of the Creativity and Wellbeing Research Initiative (CAWRI) is to explore the relationship between creativity and wellbeing, with a particular focus on understanding how creativity fosters wellbeing. CAWRI also seeks to explore the best ways of delivering wellbeing outcomes to society through creative enterprise, by encouraging research partnerships between academics and external stakeholders from industry, government and the not-for-profit sectors.
2 – What is the connection between creativity and wellbeing?
This is precisely what CAWRI is seeking to understand. The terms “creativity” and “wellbeing” are both difficult to define (and many different definitions exist), but nevertheless, we do know that being creative can have many benefits. There is a relationship between the production of relevant and effective novelty and (for example) positive social, emotional and cognitive outcomes. This obviously overlaps with the concept of wellbeing, but precisely how is still not well understood.
3 – What is the role of creativity when it comes to the overall wellbeing in the life of a person?
This question is also on CAWRI’s research agenda. We have just announced our seed-funding scheme, which will fund University of Melbourne-led projects that explore this question. Because both creativity and wellbeing can be understood from various disciplinary perspectives, CAWRI requires that its research projects be undertaken by inter-Faculty teams using inter-disciplinary approaches. This helps to create a more multi-faceted picture of how creativity fosters wellbeing, because it takes into account a more dynamic mixture of elements than can be considered from siloed academic disciplines.
4 – Is there a decrease in Creativity (or the time we dedicate to it) as we age? Why? How can we shift that?
We know that creativity requires the ability to associate and combine ingredients (“divergent thinking”), and some scholars have explored how the thinking patterns of adults become more rigid and routine as we age (which can be called “functional fixity”). Creative activities can encourage divergent thinking, ideational fluency, and flexibility in perception, which can combat this rigidity. But divergent thinking is not sufficient for creativity: one must also be able to think strategically, to be decisive, and to narrow a range of ideas down to the best ideas. This is called “convergent thinking”, and is something that adults are generally better at than children, who lack the tactical discretion of adults. So promoting creativity in ageing seems to involve striking a balance between these two ways of thinking.
5 – How do creative activities impact health (physical, mental and emotional)?
Creativity is closely linked with memory, and particularly non-declarative memory (that is, the unconscious, procedural memory of knowing how to do things rather than the conscious recall of facts and events). Creative activities access that non-declarative memory of learned experience, which can have a variety of health impacts. The CAWRI Chair, Professor Jane Davidson, has done much work to explore and promote the benefits of creative activities for older people in particular (such as singing in community choirs). So there is certainly evidence that participating in creative activities in older age can help to restore and maintain health in terms of a variety of factors.
6 – In a world where we are constantly bombarded by information and technology, what tools can we use (including digital tools) to cultivate creativity with the aim to promote wellbeing? How can we use virtual reality to enhance creativity and to promote wellbeing?
There are now researchers working on this specific question. One of CAWRI’s Steering Committee members is Jenny Waycott, an ARC Future Fellow in the School of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Melbourne. Her research looks at how technology can be designed and used to enrich older peoples’ lives, including through creative pursuits. One interesting project she contributed to was the “Ageing and Avatars” project, which involved older participants co-designing a virtual reality environment and creating playful self-representations for use in a reminiscence-based social VR setting. So digital technology and virtual reality can provide useful opportunities to promote wellbeing through creative activities.
7 – How can we nurture creativity in our daily lives? What can we do as individuals and what can be done as societies?
At an individual level, activities that promote flexibility in perception can nurture creativity. For example, individuals might practice meditation or mindfulness in order to practice seeing the same ideas or things in different ways, and of escaping overly rigid mindsets. But much depends on the relationship between the individual and their context, and what opportunities are available to them to pursue creative activities. This is where industry, government bodies and society at large play an important role, and this is why CAWRI is establishing relationships between academics and external stakeholders. Through these relationships, we hope to identify and cultivate new pathways towards wellbeing through creative activities for members of society across the lifespan.