hemi 3

Brain, Speech and Consciousness

John C. Eccles

Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, State University of New York Buffalo, New York

The language centres are restricted to the dominant cerebral hemisphere and are associated with special hypertrophied zones. In a number of subjects the enormous commissure linking the two cerebral hemispheres has been completely severed for therapeutic reasons, and Sperry has investigated the associated disabilities. The outstanding discovery is the uniqueness and exclusiveness of the dominant hemisphere in respect of conscious experience. The minor hemisphere exhibits a refined performance in respect of pattern and form but gives no conscious experience to the subject. The hypothesis is developed that normally the neural events in the minor hemisphere do not directly give the subject any conscious experiences. There is finally a discussion of the primacy of consciousness in respect of cerebral function, both in receiving and giving to the neuronal mechanisms of the liaison area of the dominant hemisphere. A reference is made to the immense and fundamental problems that are involved in brain evolution as primitive man developed means of communication in speech.



By consciousness I mean conscious experience, which each of us has privately for himself. It is the primary reality for each of us as I have argued in my book [1]. I try to avoid the words, mind or mental, because they have been so indiscriminately misused that they now are devoid of precise meaning. One may consider conscious experience at three levels. There is firstly outer sensing, which is the perceptual experience due to input from sense organs, not only from the external world by exteroceptors, such as the organs of sight, hearing, smell and touch, but also from body states, e.g. by proprioceptors from muscles, joints, fascia, etc. and by receptors for pain, hunger, thirst, etc. Secondly, there is inner sensing, which is not directly derived from sense data though it is often triggered by this data, and has many derivatives from this data. It includes the experiences of thinking, emotions, dispositional intentions, memories, dreams and creative imagination. Thirdly, there is the ego or self that is central to all experience. It transcends immediate experiences and gives each of us the sense of continuity and identity throughout a life time. This sense of continuity bridges periods of unconsciousness in sleep and in other less pleasant ways.

From these basic considerations we now raise the question: “How are these various levels of conscious experience related to brain states ?” The hard-core materialist and behaviourist answer was that this question was meaningless–there were only brain states and the rest was introspective fantasy and not worthy of philosophical or scientific enquiry. We can reject this crude materialistic dogma, not only because it ignores or distorts the facts of experience, but also because it is self-stultifying: how can brain states describe themselves ? As a philosophy it is discredited. The less radical behaviourism of the Skinner variety for example does not deny conscious experiences, but relegates them to a meaningless role with respect to the behaviour of man and animals. The behaviouristic dogma of Skinner is that investigations on the pattern of stimulus-response-reinforcement will eventually lead to a complete explanation not only of animal, but also of human behaviour and to its complete control by operant conditioning, as witness his recent book “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” [2]. I reject this philosophy because it resolves the brain-mind problem by ignoring both brain and mind; the former is safely and inviolably enclosed in the black box and the latter is as ineffective as a fantasy. This type of behaviourism leads to a caricature of man–beyond freedom and dignity–that ignores the personal experiences that for each of us is the primary reality. It can appeal only to the philosophically naive and to those seeking the power that devolves from the absolute control of men.

Behaviourism has been replaced by a much more sophisticated solution of the brain-mind problem, the psycho-neural identity hypothesis, that has as its most important exponent the distinguished philosopher Herbert Feigl with his book “The ‘Mental’ and the ‘Physical’” [3]. This philosophy is essentially a materialist monism, but it accepts fully all varieties of conscious experience and explains them as being essential components or aspects of brain states, there being strictly a psychoneural identity. It is postulated that every brain state has its counterpart in a conscious experience, the analogy being that the brain state can be recognized by external observation, and consciousness is the inner experience of that same state. Unfortunately the philosophical formulation is naive with respect to brain states. These are not recognized as having patterned operation in space and time of an almost infinite complexity, with only a minute fraction–less than 1 % of cortical activity–ever giving to the subject a conscious experience [4, 5]. Nevertheless the identity hypothesis has won acceptance amongst most neuroscientists. Undoubtedly it has been a great relief to them to have a respectable philosophical umbrella sheltering from further bother about how the mind may interfere in their neurophysiological investigations.

I will not embark on a philosophical disputation, but recently there has been a most critical appraisal of the identity hypothesis by Eric Polten [6] who has demonstrated that it leads to paradoxes and contradictions and so stands refuted. My attack on the hypothesis is based on a consideration of the brain events and of the manner in which the identity hypothesis relates them to consciousness. I will refer firstly to investigations on the linguistic areas of the brain and then to the most remarkable investigations ever made on human brains, namely the scientific study of the right and left cerebral hemispheres after section of their commissural linkages. This study has been carried out in the last few years in Los Angeles under the general direction of Roger Sperry.

The Language Centres of the Human Brain

The representation of language in the cerebral cortex has been investigated by three methods: firstly, the study of linguistic disorders arising from cerebral lesions; secondly, the effects of stimulation of the exposed brain of conscious subjects and of the transient aphasias resulting from this exposure; and thirdly, the effects of intracarotid injections of sodium amytal.

For over a century disorders of speech have been associated with lesions of the left cerebral cortex [7, 8]. There was firstly the motor aphasia described by Broca as arising from lesions of the posterior part of the third frontal convolution, an area that we now may call the anterior speech center of Broca. Much more important, however, is the large speech area, lying more posteriorly. It was originally thought by Wernicke only to be in the first temporal convolution but now it is recognized as having a much more extensive representation on the parietotemporal lobes. We may call this area the posterior speech center of Wernicke and it is specially associated with the ideational aspect of speech (Fig. I).

Aphasia itself has been subjected to most detailed and diverse considerations and areas specialized for reading and writing have been, for example, recognized by the alexia or agraphia resulting from their destruction. As a general summary, it can be stated that great difficulties arise in a sharp classification of aphasias because of the irregular destructive action of lesions.


Fig. 1. Cortical speech areas of dominant hemisphere in the human brain as determined by aphasic arrest by electrical interference [9]


For our present purposes it is not necessary to go into all of the detailed disputation between the various experts on the many types of aphasia or on the causative cerebral lesions. The remarkable discovery is that the enormous proportion of aphasics have lesions in their left cerebral hemisphere. Only very rarely is a right cerebral lesion associated with aphasia. There was originally a general belief that right handed patients had their speech centers on the left side and vice versa for left handed patients. This has proved to be untrue. The great majority of left handed subjects also have their speech centers in the left cerebral hemisphere [7].

In the hands of Penfield and his associates stimulation of the cerebral cortex has been responsible for quite remarkable discoveries relating to the localization of speech centres. Stimulation of the motor areas in either hemisphere (Fig. 2) innervating structures concerned in sound production such as tongue and larynx will cause the patients to produce a variety of noises (vocalization) but not recognizable words. These are the Rolandic areas of voice control and are bilateral. Only rarely does a similar stimulation in animals give vocal responses. On the other hand, stimulation of the speech areas (Fig. 1) results in an interference or an arrest of speech. For example, if the subject is engaged in some speech production, such as the counting of numbers, his voice may be slurred or distorted, or the same number may be repeated. Often the application of the gentle stimulating current to the speech areas causes a cessation of speech which is resumed as soon as the stimulation stops, or there is a temporary inability to name objects during the stimulation. One can imagine that the stimulus has caused a widespreading interference with the specific spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity that are responsible for speech. In this way Penfield and his associates have been able to delimit the two speech areas that have been recognized from clinical studies, namely the anterior and posterior speech areas. In addition, they have also discovered a supplementary motor speech area on the superior frontal convolution (Fig. 1).


Fig. 2. Areas devoted to the motor mechanisms of speech in the minor or non-dominant hemisphere. Similar areas also exist on the dominant hemisphere (Fig. l) [7]


Operative procedures have in addition been important in demonstrating the cerebral hemisphere that is responsible for speech–whether it is the right or left hemisphere of the subject. It has been observed that, after a cerebral operation involving exposure of one cerebral hemisphere, a transient aphasia often develops some days after the operation and continues for two or three weeks. This is attributed to what is called neuroparalytic oedema resulting from brain exposure. A systematic study of the neuroparalytic aphasia of patients by Penfield and Roberts [7] has shown that it develops in over 70% of patients with left hemisphere operation regardless of whether they are right-(157) or left-handed (18). By contrast with operations on the right hemisphere, aphasia was very rare, occurring in only one out of 196 right-handed and in one of the 15 left-handed subjects. These observations show the very strong dominance of speech representation (99 %) in the left hemisphere regardless of handedness. Other investigators are in general agreement with these results but give a less strong bias for the left-handed patients, which in their figures have right hemisphere representation of speech more frequently, though still not as frequently as left hemisphere representation [10,11].

A new method of determining speech representation and relating it to handedness was developed by Wada with the injection of sodium amytal into the common or internal carotid arteries of subjects in which it was important preoperatively to identify the speech hemisphere. This work has been analyzed by Milner, Branch and Rasmussen [12], and there was likewise the overwhelming dominance of the left hemisphere representation of speech for right-handed subjects and a considerable dominance also for left-handed subjects. Similar results have been reported by other investigators [11, 13, 14]. One difficulty about the Wada test is that it is dependent upon a very strict lateralization of vascular distribution. In some cases it has been recognized that this is not so, and other observations at variance with the strict unilateral representation of speech may be attributed to such vascular abnormalities. There are a few dubious reports of speech being located in both hemispheres [10]. Much more precise evidence would be required before this could be regarded as occurring as even a rare happening. What seems more certain is that in infancy damage to the left hemisphere may result in the development of speech areas in the right hemisphere. There appears to be considerable neural plasticity at this early age. Possibly the neural machinery of symmetrical regions of the minor hemisphere comes to the aid of the damaged speech areas. The manner in which this change is brought about gives rise of course to most interesting problems in neurobiology and neurophysiology.

Investigations on the Human Brain after Commissural Section

This work has been published and discussed on many occasions by Sperry and his colleagues [15–21], but it is my thesis that the extraordinary implications of this work for the brain-mind problem have not yet been fully realized by philosophers and scientists. This has occurred because the climate of opinion is not yet ready for a searching evaluation of these most surprising and revolutionary results. The operative transection of the corpus callosum has so far been carried out in over 20 cases for therapeutic reasons and has resulted in a remarkable amelioration of the intractable epilepsies suffered by these subjects [22,23]. In parenthesis it may be noted that section of the corpus callosum had been carried out in a series of human subjects many years earlier [24], but, because of the less rigorous post-operative testing procedures, the remarkable disabilities were overlooked.

This transection of the corpus callosum, and of the anterior and hippocampal commissures was not entered into until the animal experiments with equivalent lesions had been fully investigated by Sperry [25] and Myers [26] for many years and shown not to result in severe disabilities. It is important to realize that this transection differs from any other lesion that has been produced in the brain by surgical intervention because it inflicts a quite clear and sharp lesion restricted to commissural nerve fibres. There is no surround of injury invading adjacent neural territories, such as occurs for example with a cortical resection. It is important, furthermore, to realize that the corpus callosum is a tremendous tract, there being an estimated 200 million fibres crossing through it from one hemisphere to the other and linking mirror image areas of the two hemispheres (Fig. 3). It is of importance also that there is crossed representation for most inputs to the cerebrum from sense organs and also for its motor action via the pyramidal tracts. In particular, because of the partial decussation in the optic chiasma, the left cerebral hemisphere receives from the right visual fields of both eyes, as is illustrated in Fig. 4, and vice versa for the right hemisphere and the left visual fields. Because of decussation of the motor and sensory pathways, crossed representation also obtains for the limbs. The right arm and leg is in communication with the left hemisphere, the left arm and leg with the right hemisphere.


Fig. 4. Scheme showing the way in which the left and right visual fields are projected onto the right and left visual cortices, respectively, due to the partial decussation in the optic chiasma. The scheme also shows other sensory inputs from right limbs to the left hemisphere and that from left limbs to the right hemisphere. Similarly, hearing is largely crossed in its input, but olfaction is ipsilateral [19]


Fig. 3. Diagram showing the separation of the two cerebral hemispheres produced by section of the corpus callosum, which is shown as the great tract of interhemispheric communication [25]


Fig. 5. Arrangement of general testing unit in demonstrating symptoms produced by commissural section [19]


These split-brain cases have been systematically investigated in a most skilled and patient manner by Sperry and his associates who have amassed a wealth of data that has been confirmed again and again in the sequence of patients. Great care has been exercised throughout in the experimental design in order to eliminate all inadvertent cross-cueing. For example, all presentation of visual data has been to one or other visual half-field by flashes no more than 0.1 second in duration in order to prevent eye movements from deviating it to the other visual half-field (cf. Fig. 5)- Moreover, in the usual experimental procedure the hands are screened from view as they search for objects and recognize them by touch (cf. Fig. 5). One other point to note at the outset is that in ail these patients the speech centers were demonstrated post-operatively to be in the left hemisphere.

To me the outstanding discovery in the investigations of these subjects is the uniqueness and exclusiveness of the dominant hemisphere, that is the speech hemisphere, in respect of conscious experience. The friends and relatives of the subject recognize his expression in language and his memory as being not greatly disturbed by the operation, despite the elimination of the whole performance of the right hemisphere. The unity of selfconsciousness or the mental singleness [27] that the patient experienced before the operation has been retained, but at the expense of unconsciousness of all the happenings in the minor right hemisphere. This minor hemisphere continues to perform as a supremely intelligent animal brain with a refined stereognostic performance, but none of the goings-on in that hemisphere gives conscious experiences to the subject. It is remarkable to see the superior stereognostic performance programmed by the minor hemisphere to the left hand, all unbeknown to the subject who sees it with amazement and chagrin. These tests are carried out in full visual view, not screened as in Fig. 5- In this respect his conscious performance using the dominant hemisphere and the right hand is greatly inferior to that of the unconscious

minor hemisphere. For example, there is failure in the attempt to match a simple geometrical design by a composite made up by assembling coloured blocks, a task quickly and accurately performed by the minor hemisphere programming the left hand. In other respects the minor hemisphere is deficient not only in that it has virtually no linguistic performance, which of course would be expected because it lacks the language centers of the brain, but also in its extremely poor ability in calculation and in ideation. Nevertheless it has a limited “reading” ability, when printed names of common objects are flashed onto the left visual field in the manner illustrated in Fig. 5, and so are transmitted to the minor hemisphere. This hemisphere displays an intelligent understanding of the name so that it can program the left hand to search for and discover the object amongst an assortment presented to it under the screen (Fig. 6) and even to demonstrate its correct usage. Also names spoken to the subject can initiate successful search and recognition by the left hand. However, the extremely limited linguistic ability is displayed by the failure to react when verbs such as “point”, “wave”, “nod”, “wink” are flashed on the left visual field. Word recognition is limited to names of common objects.

This recognition transcends a simple name-object identification in that it discloses a language comprehension, e.g., “measuring instrument” for ruler, “used for lighting fires” for match. In this manner the minor hemisphere can exhibit not only appreciation of words but can also display a simple learning in new situations. Despite all this apparently intelligent behaviour, the subject never derives any conscious experiences from the “goings-on” in the minor hemisphere in all of its operative procedures. In fact, as stated above, the subject disclaims responsibility for these appropriate and intelligent actions programmed from his minor hemisphere.

Sperry [19] has shown in diagrammatic form (Fig. 4) the essential performances of the right and left cerebral hemispheres, as revealed by these investigations on patients with complete sectioning of the corpus callosum. The projections of the right (R) and left (L) visual fields to the left and right occipital cortices are shown, and some of the functions of the hemispheres are inscribed on them. It will be noted that hearing is bilateral, but mostly crossed, whereas olfaction is strictly ipsilateral.

The finer detailed investigations of Sperry and his colleagues have shown that some sensory information from the left side is projected to the dominant hemisphere, presumably by the uncrossed pathways that have been described. The simplest example is in the auditory system where the input via one ear goes to both hemispheres. Similarly there is bilateral representation in the hemispheres for much of the midline regions of the body, head and neck. Ipsilateral representation goes even further and the dominant hemisphere is able to receive from the proximal parts of the limbs and to cause motor actions certainly in the brachial and pelvic girdle muscles of the ipsilateral side. The exclusive crossed representation and action holds particularly for the visual system and for the forearm and hand and the leg and foot. Another kind of ipsilateral transfer consists in the general vagueinformation that comes to the subject if, for example, the left visual field is illuminated suddenly. He has a vague experience of this increase of illumination which has not occurred in the right visual field. When painful skin stimulation is applied to the left limbs, it is experienced as a discomfort without localization. More remarkable in a way are the emotional reactions that can be transferred to a limited degree. Some picture presented to the minor hemisphere through the left visual field may cause the subject to experience a vague emotional state such as fear or embarrassment that he cannot explain. Presumably this cross-communication is effected through the hypothalamus and basal ganglia whose commissural connections remain intact. In all cases it can be assumed that there is a neural communication to the dominant hemisphere through pathways that give only vague information. What is surprising is that there is such a poor transmission of information by these subcortical commissural pathways, as will be discussed later.

I now formulate the radical hypothesis that, even before section of the corpus callosum, the “goings-on” in the minor hemisphere did not directly give the subject any conscious experiences, a hypothesis that I tentatively suggested several years ago [28]. In order to make this hypothesis of brain-mind interaction explicit I present a diagram (Fig. 7) that portrays the flow of communication between major subdivisions of the brain and also to and from the outside world. Some special features of this diagram will be explained later in the formulation of hypotheses relating to the origin and development of language and culture. For present purposes we will concentrate on the neural pathways from receptors to the cerebrum and reciprocally from the cerebrum to muscles. Due to the decussations of the neural pathways, the left cerebral hemisphere in general receives from and acts upon the right side, e.g. right visual field and right arm, and vice versa for the right cerebral hemisphere and the left visual field and left arm. However, as shown in Fig. 7, not all of the pathways are crossed. For example, there is a significant ipsilateral input for somaesthesis, and this was found to be increased in a case where the somaesthetic area had suffered a birth damage [29]. In Fig. 7 there are also shown small ipsilateral motor projections from each cerebral hemisphere.


Fig. 6. Names of objects flashed to left half field can be read and understood but not spoken. Subject can retrieve the named object by touch with the left hand, but cannot afterwards name the item nor retrieve it with the right hand [21]


Fig. 7. Communications to and from the brain and within the brain. Diagram to show the principal lines of communication from peripheral receptors to the sensory cortices and so to the cerebral hemispheres. Similarly, the diagram shows the output from the cerebral hemispheres via the motor cortex and so to muscles. Both these systems of pathways are largely crossed as illustrated, but minor uncrossed pathways are also shown. The dominant left hemisphere and minor right hemisphere are labelled, together with some of the properties of these hemispheres that are found displayed in Fig. 10. The corpus callosum is shown as a powerful cross linking of the two hemispheres and, in addition, the diagram displays the modes of interaction between Worlds 1, 2 and 3, as described in the text.


The rigorous testing of the subjects who have been subjected to section of the corpus callosum has revealed that conscious experiences arise only in relationship to neural activities in the dominant hemisphere. This is shown in Fig. 7 by the arrows leading from the linguistic and ideational areas of the dominant hemisphere to the conscious self that is represented by the circular area above. It must be recognized that Fig. 7 is an information flow diagram and that the location of the conscious self is for diagrammatic convenience. It is of course not meant to imply that the conscious self is hovering in space above the dominant hemisphere. It is postulated that in normal subjects activities in the minor hemisphere reach consciousness only after transmission to the dominant hemisphere, which very effectively occurs via the immense impulse traffic in the corpus callosum, as is illustrated in Fig. 7 by the numerous arrows. Complementarily, it is postulated that the neural activities responsible for voluntary actions mediated by the pyramidal tracts normally are generated in the dominant hemisphere by some willed action of the conscious self (see downward arrows in Fig. 7)- When destined for the left side, there is transmission to the minor hemisphere by the corpus callosum and so to the motor cortex of that hemisphere. It must be recognized that this transmission in the corpus callosum is not a simple one-way transmission. The 200 million fibres must carry a fantastic wealth of impulse traffic in both directions. For example, a conservative estimate of the average impulse frequency in a fibre would be 20 Hz, which gives a total traffic of 4 X 109 impulses in a second. In the normal operation of the cerebral hemispheres, activity of any part of a hemisphere is as effectively and rapidly transmitted to the other hemisphere as to another lobe of the same hemisphere. The whole cerebrum achieves a most effective unity. It will be appreciated from Fig. 7 that section of the corpus callosum gives a unique and complete cleavage of this unity. The neural activities of the minor hemisphere are isolated from those cerebral areas that give and receive from the conscious self. As I have mentioned already, all other surgical or pathological lesions of the cerebrum are crude and imperfect by comparison.

On this hypothesis we can regard the minor hemisphere as having the status of a very superior animal brain. It displays intelligent reactions and primitive learning responses and it has a great many skills, particularly in the spatial and auditory domain, but it gives no conscious experience to the subject. Moreover there is no evidence that this brain has some residual consciousness of its own. Sperry postulates that there is another mind in this brain, but it is prevented from communicating to us because it has no speech. I would agree with this statement if it be linked with the further statement that in this respect the minor hemisphere resembles an animal brain, though its performance is superior to that of the brains of the highest anthropoids. In both of these cases we lack communication in a rich linguistic level, so it is not possible to test for the possibility of some consciously experiencing being. We therefore must be agnostic about the question of mental activities and consciousness in the manner in which I have defined it at the beginning. The superiority of the minor hemisphere over subhuman primate brains is demonstrated for example by the time of many minutes during which an initial signal can be held in its memory before a successful retrieval [21]. It is also superior to an animal brain in respect of cross-modality transfer of information. For example a visual or auditory signal can be very effectively used to signal an object to be retrieved using kinaesthetic sensing, and this retrieval can be effected with intelligence and understanding. For example, the flash of a dollar sign results in retrieval of some coin–25 c or 10c–when no dollar notes are available, or the flash of a picture of a wall clock results in retrieval of the only related object available – a child’s toy watch.

Speech and Consciousness

We have seen already that with human subjects callosal transection reveals that the left hemisphere is the speech hemisphere for all subjects so far investigated (Figs. 4, 6, 7). In fact there is an identification of speech hemisphere with dominant hemisphere and association of this hemisphere with the conscious experiences of all the subjects, both as regards receiving from the world and acting upon it. There is thus strong evidence that we have to associate the dominant hemisphere, i.e. the speech hemisphere, with the amazing property of being able to give rise to conscious experiences in perception, and also to receive from them in the carrying out of willed movements. Moreover, the most searching investigation discloses that the minor hemisphere does not have in the smallest degree this amazing property of being in liaison with the conscious mind of the subject in respect either of giving or receiving. One would predict with assurance that in subjects with the rarely occurring right hemispheric representation of speech, the right hemisphere would be dominant, as revealed after the callosal transection, and be alone associated with the conscious experiences of the subject. That leaves us of course with the acute problem of what would happen if there were callosal transection of brains in which there is bilateral representation of speech, as has been claimed to occur as a rare abnormality.

In 1965 Serafetinides et al. [13] reported that relatively slow intracarotid injections of sodium amylobarbitone resulted not only in aphasia but also in a loss of consciousness for some minutes when given on the side of the dominant speech hemisphere. By contrast with intracarotid injection to the minor hemisphere, there was at the most a brief unconsciousness. These results would be in good accord with the present hypothesis of a unique association of the dominant hemisphere with consciousness; however, the experimental results have been criticized by Rosaldini and Rossi [14], who found that unconsciousness occurred only when the greater part of both hemispheres was functionally inactivated. They concluded that there is no evidence to associate consciousness with the neuronal mechanisms responsible for speech. Evidently more definitive technical procedures are required before the intracarotid injections can be employed to test the hypothesis that with intact corpus callosum the dominant hemisphere is exclusively concerned in the phenomena of consciousness.

The unique association of speech and consciousness with the dominat hemisphere gives rise to the question: Is there some special anatomical structure in the dominant hemisphere that is not matched in the minor hemisphere? In general, the two hemispheres are regarded as being mirror images at a crude anatomical level, but recently it has been discovered that in about 80% of human brains there are asymmetries with special developments of the cerebral cortex in the regions both of the anterior and posterior speech areas [30, 31]- In Fig. 8 there is displayed the superior surface of the temporal lobe after removal of the frontal and parietal lobes of both hemispheres by cutting along the dotted lines in Figs. 1 and 2. There is seen to be hypertrophy of a part of the left superior temporal gyrus in the region of the posterior speecharea of Wernicke (the cross-hatched area). However, apart from such differences at a macro-level one must assume that there are specially fine structural and functional properties as the basis for the linguistic performance of these speech areas. Undoubtedly most exciting work awaits the investigation by electron-microscopic techniques and eventually by electrophysiological analysis of the on-going events in the speech areas of conscious subjects whose brains are exposed for some therapeutic purpose. In the evolution of man there must have been most remarkable developments in the neuronal structure of the cerebral cortex that has made possible the evolution of speech. One can imagine that progressively more subtle linguistic performance gave primitive men the opportunities for very effective survival, which may be regarded as a strong evolutionary pressure. As a consequence there were the marvellously rapid evolutionary changes transforming in one to two million years a primitive ape to the present human race.

In respect of the anatomically represented speech areas, and the associated linguistic ability and consciousness the human brain is unique. Undoubtedly the experimental investigations on chimpanzees, both with respect to their developing a sign language [32] and a symbol language [33], show that the chimpanzee brain exhibits considerable levels of intelligent and learned performance, but this chimpanzee communication is at a quite different level from human speech. Moreover, this linguistic performance is at a lower level than that of the minor hemisphere in Sperry’s experiments (cf. Figs. 4, 6). Fig. 9 illustrates a remarkable linguistic performance of the minor hemisphere in a boy that suffered left hemisphere damage at birth. The speech centres remained in the left hemisphere, but the right hemisphere had exceptional linguistic ability. In response to verbal instructions, the minor hemisphere responds to a visual input to the left visual field of the printed word «BOOK” by programming the left hand to write «book”, this operation being screened from visual observation. The dominant hemisphere mistakenly gave the verbal report that the word being written was «cup”, thereby revealing that it was not responsible for the correct writing by the left hand, and that the conscious subject was completely unaware of events in the right hemisphere.


Fig. 8. Upper surfaces of human temporal lobes exposed by a cut on each side as illustrated by the broken lines in Figs. 1 and 2. Typical left-right differences are shown. The posterior margin (PM) of the planum temporale (PT) slopes backward more sharply on the left than on the right, so that end у of the left Sylvian fissure lies posterior to the corresponding point on the right. The anterior margin of the sulcus of Herschl (SH) slopes forward more sharply on the left. In this brain there is a single traverse gyrus of Hersch (TG) on the left and two on the right (TGj, TG2). T. P. temporal pole, О. P. occipital pole. SI sulcus intermedius of Beck [30].


Fig. 9. An example of left-hand writing to a left field presentation, followed by incorrect verbalization. The written word is an actual half-size reproduction of the subject’s answer [29]



Dominant hemisphere   Minor hemisphere
Liaison to consciousness Verbal Ideational Analytic Sequential Arithmetical and computer-like   No such liaison Almost non-verbal musical

Pictorial and pattern sense Synthetic Holistic

Geometrical and spatial

Fig. 10. Various specific performances of the dominant and minor hemispheres as suggested by the new conceptual developments of Levy-Agresti and Sperry [35]. There are some additions to their original list


Wada [34] has made the remarkable discovery that even the 5 months foetus has already developed the hypertrophied speech areas illustrated in Fig. 8. Genetic instructions are thus building the speech areas long before they are to be used. The human brain at the stage of the infant already is giving evidence of incipient speech performance. A two- year-old child displays an extraordinary ability to develop the expression of sounds in relationship to meaning and intention. As I mentioned earlier, damage to the potential speech hemisphere at an early stage can result in the other undamaged hemisphere becoming the speech hemisphere. However, this transfer may not happen. A hemisphere severely damaged in infancy may still develop as the speech hemisphere.

In a remarkable new conceptual development Levy- Agresti and Sperry [35] have proposed that the dominant and minor hemispheres have a division in their operational tasks. The various specific performances are listed in Fig. 10. It is suggested that this division of tasks enables each hemisphere to perform its particular general mode of processing information before there is synthesis and eventual appearance as conscious experience.

Reconsideration oj the Brain-Mind Problem

Some aspects of Fig. 7 have already been described, but there has been no reference to its basic constructional features, which are related to the 3-world concept of Popper [36, 37]. According to this concept the totality of ail existents and experiences can be subdivided into three quite distinct categories that Popper refers to as World 1, World 2 and World 3. Some indication of the comprehensive nature of this classification is given in the tabular arrangement of Fig. 11. World 1 is the material world in all its states, and it is important for our present purpose to recognize that even human brains with all their manifold neuronal activities in the most complex patterned performance are in World 1. By contrast, in World 2 is the totality of all conscious experiences, which of course form the private conscius life for each one of us. It includes not only all perceptions with their tremendous variety and subtlety, but also our thoughts feelings, memories and intentions. It is the world of the conscious seif, which in the religious sense would include the soul. World 3 comprises the whole expression of man’s creative thought from its primitive beginnings through ail cultures and up to our contemporary scene, where it would include the most abstract theoretical systems of science and mathematics as well as the arts in the widest sense of the term and even the mass media. It is the world of culture and civilization, which is the unique creation of man, and it is beyond even rudimentary comprehension by the highest non-human primates.

In Fig. 7 the World 1 labels are applied to the external world and also to the body and brain. World 2 is the conscious self that is in intimate and rich two-way communication with the linguistic and ideational areas of the dominant hemisphere. Finally Fig. 7 shows World 3 in two sites, and in both cases it is in the form of coded information on some material (World 1) substrate. For example, the paper and ink of a book are in World 1, but the ideas coded in the print are in World 3. The immensity of World 3 will be appreciated if it be recognized that it comprises all the knowledge and stories in all the books of the world, and also all the ideas expressed in all works of art, literature, music and architecture, as may be seen in the list of Fig. 11. As illustrated in Fig. 7, World 3 cannot be directly known by us. It can only reach our World 2 by a complex route through World 1 media to our receptors and so through the neuronal machinery of our brains, where complex decoding must occur, and so to those areas of the dominant hemisphere that are in liaison with World 2. Likewise, willed action occurs in the reverse route from World 2 to the liaison areas of the dominant hemisphere and thence via the neuronal machinery of the cerebrum to the motor cortex of both hemispheres and so out to the appropriate muscle action. In the diagrammed brain of Fig. 7 there is one further feature for comment, and that is the central squares in each hemisphere that are labelled “memory stores, World 3 b”. These are all those elements of . World 3 that can be held in memory without overt expression in coded form on some base, as is World 3 a on World 1 in Fig. 7. This component of World 3 is held in memory codes on special neural networks in the brain, labelled World 3b.


  =>   =>  
World 1   World 2   World 3
Physical objects and states   States of consciousness   Knowledge in objective sense
1. Inorganic   Subjective knowledge   \ j Records of intelectual efforts,
Matter and energy of cosmos   Experience of perception,   philosophical,
2. Biology   thinking,   theological,
  emotions,   scientific,
Structure and actions of all living   dispositional   historical,
beings–human brains   intentions,   literary,
    memories,   artistic,
3. Artefacts   dreams,   technological
Material substrates of human creativity,   creative imagination   2/ Theoretical systems,

scientific problems,

of machines, of books, of works of art, of music       critical arguments

Fig. 11. Tabular representation of Worlds 1, 2 and 3 as described by Popper [36, 37]. Full description in text


The information flow diagram of Fig. 7 can also form a background to the recent conceptual developments of Sperry in brain-mind interaction. In general terms he states [19]:

“Conscious phenomena in this scheme are conceived to interact with and to largely govern the physio- chemical and physiological aspects of the brain process. It obviously works the other way round as well, and thus a mutual interaction is conceived between the physiological and the mental properties. Even so, the present interpretation would tend to restore mind to its old prestigious position over matter, in the sense that the mental phenomena are seen to transcend the phenomena of physiology and biochemistry.” “Consciousness does do things and is highly functional as an important component of the causal sequence in higher level reactions. This is a view that puts consciousness to work. It gives the phenomena of consciousness a use and a reason for being and for having been evolved.”

In another publication [18] he states:

«In the present scheme the author postulates that the conscious phenomena of subjective experience do interact on the brain processes exerting an active causal influence. In this view consciousness is conceived to have a directive role in determining the flow pattern of cerebral excitation.”

The split-brain investigations have, I think, falsified the psychoneural identity hypothesis, which has also been strongly attacked on philosophical grounds [6]. It is demonstrated that the minor cerebral hemisphere with its on-going activities that can be categorized as displaying memory, understanding even at a primitive verbal level, and concepts of spatial relations does not give any conscious experiences to the subject, who remains in conscious liaison only with neural events in the dominant hemisphere. Evidently the concept of psychoneural identity has lost its primitive simplicity of identification of neural activities of the brain in general with conscious experiences derived therefrom. In particular, sophisticated, intelligent and learned activities of the minor hemisphere do not achieve liaison to the consciousness of the subject. Moreover, as Sperry has realized, the problems have to be approached at a new level of understanding, the holistic approach. And this occurs in special regions only of the cerebral cortex and in special states of these regions. Moreover, psychoneural parallelism has to be rejected, for on this view the mental states are ineffective, being merely spin-offs of neural activities that they cannot influence.

A further remarkable outcome of the split-brain investigations is that there is almost no cross-communication at the cerebral level except via the corpus callosum and the anterior and hippocampal commissures. The proposal by Penfield [9] that mental unity is achieved by transmission to and from the centrencephalic system in the brain stem is, of course, falsified by the failure of any conscious appreciation of activities in the minor hemisphere after commissural transection. This unity must normally be achieved by the intense impulse flow through the cerebral commissures.

Evidently immense and fundamental problems are involved in the evolution of the brain that occurred as man was gradually developing his means of communication in speech. One can imagine that speech and brain development went on together in the evolving process and that from these two emerged the cultural performance of man. Over hundreds of millenia there must have been a progressive development of language from its primitive form as expressive cries to a language that became gradually a more and more effective means of description and argument. In this way, by forging linguistic communication of ever increasing precision and subtlety, man must gradually have become a self-conscious being aware of his own identity or selfhood. As a consequence, he also became aware of death, as witnessed so frequently and vividly in other members of the tribal group that he recognized as beings like himself. We do not know how early in the story of man this tragic and poignant realization of death- awareness came to him, but it was at least a hundred thousand years ago, as evidenced by the ceremonial burial customs with the dead laid in graves with weapons, ornaments, etc.

The more recent development of Paleolithic man is exemplified for us by the Lascaux cave paintings for example. Such artistic representation of animals could only have been done by a kind of early art school operating by linguistic description and criticism. Language must already have been a highly developed form of communication between those cooperating in such artistic achievements in which the forms and movements of animals had to be visualized and remembered and graphically represented. Following Popper [38], my theme is that in this long Paleolithic era of hundreds of millenia man was creating himself in all aspects of World 2 by creating his culture, the World 3 of Fig. 11. These double processes of creation are indissolubly locked together. The progressive acceleration of cultural development can be attributed to a progressive skill and effectiveness in linguistic communication and the consequent development of technology that distinguishes the Neolithic age from the relatively slow development of the long Paleolithic era. In the maturing civilizations the exigencies of survival were no longer dominant in the thoughts of men and the creative imagination of man could instead be expressed in literature, in art, in architecture, and in the further developments in religion, in philosophy and in science that are associated with his attempts to understand the manner of being he was, his origin, and his destiny.


[1] Eccles, J.C.: Facing Reality, p. 210. New York-Heidel- berg-Berlin: Springer 1970. – [2] Skinner, B. F.: Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Knopf 1971. – [3] Feigl, H.: The “mental” and the “physical”, p. 179. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1967. – [4] Moruzzi, G., in: Brain and Conscious Experience (Ed. J. C. Eccles). New York: Springer 1966. – [5] Jung, R.: Personal communication (1970). – [6] Polten, E.: A critique of the psycho-physical identity theory. The Hague: Mouton Publ. 1972. – [7] Pen- field, W., Roberts, L.: Speech and Brain-Mechanisms, p. 286. Princeton University Press; London: Oxford University Press 1959. – [8] Geschwind, N.: Sci. American 226, 76 (1972). – [9] Penfield, W., in: Brain and Conscious Experience (Ed. J. C. Eccles). New York: Springer 1966. – [10] Zang- will, O. L.: Cerebral Dominance and its Relation to Psychological Function, p. 31. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd i960. – [11] Piercy, M.: Mod. Trends Neurol. 4, 106 (1967). – [12] Milner, B., Branch, C., Rasmussen, T., in: Disorders of Language, p. 200 (Ciba Symposium). London: J. and A. Churchill 1964- – [13] Serafetinides, E. A., Hoare, R. D., Driver, M. V.: Brain 88, 107 (1965). – [14] Rosadini, G., Rossi, G. F.: Brain 90, 101 (1967). – [15] Sperry, R. W., in: Brain and Conscious Experience (Ed. J. C. Eccles). New York: Springer 1966. – [16] Sperry, R. W.: Am. Psychol. 23, 723 (1968). – [17] Sperry, R. W.: Harvey Lect. 62, 293 (1968). – [18] Sperry, R. W.: Psychol. Rev. 76, 532 (1969). – [19] Sperry, R. W., in: Perception and its disorders. Res. Publ. Ass. nerv. ment. Dis. Vol. 48 (1970). – [20] Sperry, R. W., in: Early Experience in Visual Information Processing in Perceptual and Reading Disorders, p. 167 (ed. by F. A. Young and D. B. Lindsley). Nat. Acad. Sci., Washington (1970). – [21] Sperry, R. W., Gazzaniga, M. S., Bogen, J. E., in: Handbook of clinical neurology, chap. 14, p. 273. New York: John Wiley & Sons 1969. – [22] Bogen, J. E., Vogel, P. J.: Bull. Los Angeles Neurol. Soc. 27, 169 (1962). – [23] Bogen, J. E., Fisher, E. D., Vogel, P. J.: J. Amer. med. Ass. 194, 1328 (1965). – [24] Akelaitis, A. J.: J. Neurosurg. 1, 94 (1944). – [25] Sperry, R. W.: Sci. American 210, 42 (1964)-

[26] Myers, R. E., in: Brain Mechanisms and Learning, p. 481 (Ed. J. F. Delafresnaye). Oxford: Blackwell Sci. Publ. 1961. –

[27] Bremer, ,F., in: Brain and Conscious Experience (Ed. J. C. Eccles). New York: Springer 1966. – [28] Eccles, J. C.: The Brain and the Unity of Conscious Experience (Eddington Lecture). London: Cambridge University Press 1965. – [29] Nebes, R. D., Sperry, R. W.: Neuropsychologia 9, 247 (1971).–

[30]  Geschwind, N.. Levitsky, W.: Science 161, 186 (1968).–

[31] Wada, J. A.: Paper presented at the 9th International Congress of Neurology, New York 1969. – [32] Gardner, R. A., Gardner, В. T.: Science 165, 664 (1969). – [33] Premack, D.: Psychol. Today 4, 55 (1970). – [34] Wada, J. A.: Personal communication (1972). – [35] Levy-Agresti, J., Sperry, R. W.: Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 61, 1151 (1968). – [36] Popper, K. R., in: Logic, methodology and philosophy of sciences, III (ed. by van Rootselaar and Staal). Amsterdam: North- Holland Publ. Co. 1968. – [37] Popper, K. R., in: Akten des XIV. Internationalen Kongresses frir Philosophie, Vol. 1, Wien, 1968. – [38] Popper, K. R.: Personal communication (1970).

Received June 27, 1972


The Social Construction and Psychological Assessment of Creativity

Hans Westmeyer

The paper underlines the conceptual disunity present in the field of creativity research and introduces a relational concept of creativity of products that stresses the socially defined character of this aspect of creativity. The proposed definition implies that creativity cannot be conceived as an ability of persons, as a characteristic of thinking processes, or as a neuronal function. Referring to the well-known investment theory of creativity and to the so-called creativity tests, the paper explicates additional consequences of a socially construed creativity concept and considers the status of empirical research on creativity within a social constructionist framework.

Conceptual Disunity

Whoever tries to immerse themselves in the field of creativity is struck by the high degree of disunity present in this field in practically every respect. Take, for example, the summary survey of the cognitive characteristics that are ascribed to so-called creative persons by different researchers in the field–a survey prepared by Tardif and Sternberg (1988, p. 434) in the closing paper of the well-known book on the nature of creativity (Sternberg, 1988). There does not seem to be very much agreement between the different authors concerning the ingredients, characteristics, or resources of creativity. This situation is, of course, not unique to the field of creativity; it can be met in many other areas of the social sciences.

The disunity concerning the cognitive characteristics of so-called creative persons is, at least in part, due to differences in the definition of the creativity concept and to fundamentally divergent strategies in creativity research. If we follow Jaccard and Dittus (1990) in their differentiation of three approaches to empirical tests of psychological theory, namely the strictly idiographic approach, the aggregate-nomothetic approach, and the normative-nomothetic approach, we find that all three approaches are persued in creativity research. Jaccard and Dittus (1990) characterize the three approaches in the following way: “The strictly idiographic approach is concerned with making statements about the relationships among variables for a single individual” (p. 314). The aggregate-nomothetic approach “is strongly tied to the idiographic approach and retains the individual as the focal unit of analysis.


Тable 1. Gruber’s three fundamental propositions of creativity research (Gruber & Davis, 1988, p. 245)

  1. Each creative person is a unique configuration.
  2. The most challenging task of creativity research is to invent means of describing and explaining each unique configuration.
  3. A theory of creativity that chooses to look only at common features of creative people is probably missing the main point of each life and evading the main responsibility of research on creativity.


However, it goes beyond strict idiography by summarizing across individual analyses, making generalizations regarding groups of individuals” (p. 316). The normative-nomothetic approach “focuses … on multiple individuals or groups of individuals…. Essential to this approach is the fact that inferences are made regarding the behavior of an individual relative to other individuals, that is, within a relative frame of reference” (p. 316).

A prominent example of the strictly idiographic approach is the work of Howard Gruber. His three fundamental propositions of creativity research could be read as a credo of the strictly idiographic approach (see Table 1).

Whereas the aggregate-nomothetic approach can be seen as complementary to the strictly idiographic one, this is not the case for the normative-nomothetic approach, which is characterized by a different kind of intended application (e.g., aspects of groups, samples, or populations of persons), and relies on different methods and strategies to investigate its subject. I cannot go into this more closely, but let me mention that the investment theory of creativity proposed by Sternberg and Lubart (1991) is a good example of the normative-nomothetic approach. In the course of testing their theory, the authors refer to samples of persons, compute correlation coefficients across individuals, and use corresponding multiple regression methods (Sternberg & Lubart, 1991, pp. 18-20).

The absence of an agreed upon definition or explication of the creativity concept seems to be, in my opinion, one reason for the abundance of entities that are called ‘creative’ in the field of creativity research. In Table 2, entities to which the term ‘creative’ is applied in the abstracts of the contributions to the 5th ECHA Conference (Spiel, 1996) are listed.

More than creative imagination is called for if one tries to accept the challenge to construct a theory that is able to deal with all these different entities. My attempt to reduce this impressive number of substantives by categorizing them on the basis of the widely accepted four aspects of the problem of creativity was actually not very successful and shall not be reported here. But these four aspects are important for the argument I would like to put forward in my paper.

On the Four Aspects of Creativity

Most researchers in the field follow Mooney (1963) in differentiating between four aspects of the problem of creativity:

(1)   the environment in which the creation conies about, that is, the creative environment (or climate or situation or place);

(2)   the product of creating, that is, the creative product;

(3)   the process of creating, that is, the creative process; and

(4)   the person who is creative, that is, the creative person.

What are the relations between these four aspects (cf. Taylor, 1988, p. 101)? Are they independent of each other? Of course not! But of what kind are the dependencies? Are they conceptual or empirical ones? Would we, for example, call an environment creative if it has not stimulated the creation of any creative product? Or, would we call a person creative if he has not produced any creative product? And, would we call a process creative if it has not led to any creative product? From my point of view, the answer has to be: No! in each case. The creative product is first, even if I set myself in contrast to Weisberg (1993, p. 5) who has a completely different rank order–I suppose because he is primarily interested in the creative thinking process.


Table 2. Entities to which the term “Creative” is applied (source: Abstracts of the 5th ECHA Conference; Spiel, 1996)

Creative ability (Voiskounsky et ah, Averina)

Creative accomplishment (Nahrer)

Creative activity (Benischke, Montgomery)

Creative adolescent (Piirto)

Creative approach (Landau)

Creative arts (Vialle)

Creative aspect (Spiel et al.) of therapy Creative atmosphere (Landau)

Creative behaviour (Urban, Gluck, Hartmann, Cretu) Creative development (Vladimir et ah, Clark)

Creative effect (Scholda et ah)

Creative English (Pychova)

Creative feature (Uusikyla)

Creative flow (Fankhauser)

Creative home (Landau)

Creative imagination (Limont)

Creative individual (Uusikyla)

Creative method (Knourkova)

Creative musician (Cretu)

Creative path (Hopfgartner) of teaching and learning Creative people (Cramond)

Creative performance (Lubart)

Creative personality (Landau, Vladimir et al.)

Creative potential (Petrulyte)

Creative problem-solving skill (Hopfgartner)

Creative process (Fankhauser)

Creative product (Montgomery)

Creative production (Cretu)

Creative profession (Gluck)

Creative response (Montgomery)

Creative student (Southern et ah)

Creative talent (Shavinina, Uusikyla)

Creative task (Petsche)

Creative teacher (Monks, Petrulyte)

Creative therapy (Spiel et ah)

Creative thinking (Petsche, Matyushkina, Spahn, Heinla) Creative way (Wills)

Creative work (Gltick, Lubart)

Creative writer (Piirto)

Creative writing (Fischer)


Table 3. A simplified definition of creativity of products

x is a creative product of person у if and only if there are

(1)                            a domain d,

(2)                            a rater or judge r,

(3)                            a (social) context c,

(4)                            and an instant t such that

(5)                            x is a product which belongs to the domain d,

(6)                            r is an expert in the domain d within the social context c,

(7)                            and the product x of person у is evaluated by the rater r in the context c at time t as creative,

i.e., CEF(xyi,r,c,t) = creative, with CEF as the creativity evaluation function.


I think, due to conceptual reasons, the existence of creative products is a necessary condition for the ascription or attribution of creativity to the respective persons, environments, and/or processes. I will leave open here the corresponding question of whether the existence of creative products is also a sufficient condition for the ascription of creativity to the other three instances. I do not think it to be, but this is not important for my argument.

The property of being a necessary condition already underlines the prominent position of the creative product. But what makes a product a creative one? An evaluation, of course! As is widely acknowleged in creativity research, evaluations depend upon the interaction of the product, the individuals doing the evaluating, and the context in which the evaluation is done. Consequently, the result of an evaluation of a product cannot be attributed to the product alone, i.e. it cannot be conceived as a property or a feature of the product. It has to be construed, instead, as an element of an at least ternary relation.

Towards a Definition of the Concept of Creativity

Let me try to make this more precise (see Table 3): a simplified definition of creativity of products has to consider, apart from the product x and the person у who produced x, the domain of production d (e.g., science, art, music, etc.), a rater or judge r who evaluates the product, a social context c in which the evaluation takes place at a certain point in time t.

x has to be a product belonging to the domain d; r has to be an expert in the domain d, acknowledged within the social context c; and the evaluation of the product x of person у by the rater r in the context c at time t has to lead to the result: This product is creative or a creative one.

This definition shows that creativity of a product is ascribed or attributed by raters or judges, that the expertise of these persons relative to certain domains of production are important, that the social context matters, and that the time may make a difference. Creativity as expressed by the creativity evaluation function (CEF) refers not to a property of products, but to a certain relation between the elements of the domain of the function, and the product is only one of these elements.


Table 4. A selection of answers to the question “what is creativity?”

Creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate. (Lubart, 1994, and many others before him)

Creativity A term used … to refer to mental processes that lead to solutions, ideas,’conceptualizations, artistic forms, theories or products that are unique and novel. (Reber, 1985)

Creativity is an extremely complex thinking process. (Poppel, 1996)

… creative thinking as the process of sensing difficulties, problems, gaps in information, missing elements, something askew; making guesses and formulating hypotheses about these deficiencies; evaluating and testing theses, guesses and hypotheses; possibly revising and retesting them; and finally communicating the results. (Torrance, 1988, called his research definition)

Creation yields products with three characteristic properties:

  1. They are novel for the individual who creates it.
  2. They reflect the individual’s freedom of choice and accordingly are not constructed by rote or calculation, but by a nondeterministic process.
  3. The choice is made from among options specified by criteria. Qohnson-Laird, 1988)

Proposition 1: Creativity is a form of leadership in that it entails personal influence.

Proposition 2: Creativity involves the participation of chance processes both in the origination of new ideas and in the social acceptance of those ideas by others. (Simonton, 1988)

Creativity is one of the most complex neuronal functions. (Poppel, 1996)


Implications of the Definition

This has consequences for the other entities to which the term ‘creative’ is applied. If creativity of a product is a necessary condition for the ascription of creativity to the respective process, person and environment, the relational character of the creativity concept with regard to products implies a likewise relational character of the creativity concepts with regard to persons, processes and environments. Consequently, there is good reason to be doubtful about the usual answers to the question “What is creativity?” (see Table 4).

If my analysis is right, creativity cannot be conceived as an ability of persons, as a characteristic of thinking processes, or as a neuronal function. If there is a reality in creativity at all, it lies in the relationships between the person said to be creative, the raters or judges who are entitled to ascribe the label, and the social context in which the evaluation takes place. “Realities and relationships” is, by the way, the title of a recent book of Ken Gergen (1994), who is one of the most prominent social constructionists. Gergen makes a very similar point for other psychological constructs that are usually misinterpreted as properties of persons or cognitive processes inside persons. Unfortunately, creativity is not among the topics dealt with in his book. But there is another person at least as prominent in creativity research as Gergen in the social-constructionist movement–I mean Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1991, p. 34), who defends a similar position with regard to creativity in his commentary on the investment theory of Sternberg and Lubart (1991).

This theory (see also Sternberg & Lubart, 1996) can easily get into trouble if the socially defined or constructed character of the concept of creativity is not explicitly considered in the theoretical assumptions. Sternberg and Lubart shortly summarize their theory in the following way:

Six resources (intelligence, knowledge, intellectual style, personality, motivation, environment) converge in an interactive manner to generate various domain-relevant creative abilities, which are partially overlapping (neither wholly domain specific nor wholly domain general). Some of these abilities, in turn, generate a portfolio of creative projects. These projects yield products that are in turn evaluated, sometimes multiply. We can measure creativity only through these evaluations, which can fluctuate with the person doing the evaluations and with the spatiotemporal context of the evaluations, (cf. Figure 1 in Sternberg & Lubart, 1991, p. 5)

If we have a set of persons whose various resources have been measured by appropriate assessment procedures, and these persons have produced in persuing the so-called creative-performance tasks a number of products, the theory pretends to predict the creativity of the products.

Referring to our former definition of the creativity of products (Table 3), what the theory actually predicts and explains is the rating of a product or a set of products of a person by a rater or a set of raters at a certain point in time. To make the situation even more complex, there could be different sets of raters that come to different results when evaluating the same products of a certain person at a certain point in time. The theory does not prescribe anything concerning the selection procedure for raters. If the rank order of the persons with regard to the creativity of their products changes with changes in the set of raters doing the evaluation, we have the apparently paradoxical situation that the substantive assumptions of the investment theory of creativity are, at the same time, confirmed and refuted by data referring to the same persons and the same products.

Socially Versus Psychologically Defined Concepts

For a better understanding of this situation, let me put it into a broader context. From a social-constructionist point of view, this situation is no surprise, but is to be expected from the beginning. And we could have been well aware of this situation at least since Jerry Wiggins’ (1973) differentiation between socially and psychologically defined concepts.

As examples of socially defined concepts, he mainly considered criteria as they are predicted in psychological assessment, and as exemplary of psychologically defined concepts he referred to the psychological predictors on which the prediction is based. With regard to the investment theory, the creativity of products would be a socially defined concept, whereas the six resources would count as psychologically defined concepts.

But the important question in this context is: what are the differences between socially and psychologically defined concepts? My answer is the following (cf. Westmeyer, 1995):

Socially defined concepts are construed by groups of persons that are authorized to do so and endowed with the required definitional power by certain social institutions or organisations of an international, national, public, or private provenance. The resulting constructions are considered to be valid until further revision within the sphere of influence of these institutions or organisations.

Psychologically defined concepts are, in the first place, constructions of single psychological scientists or of small groups of such persons. Some of these constructions are gaining ground within more extended parts of the scientific community, whereas others do not succeed that well. Universal commitment and acceptance are not within reach of any of these constructions, since, in a democratically constituted scientific community, principally everyone is entitled to her or his own constructions.

That is, both kinds of concepts are socially construed. The difference is more in the groups of persons who are entitled, within a certain social context, to do the construction. In the case of psychologically defined concepts, these groups are part of our own scientific community, whereas, in the case of socially defined concepts in the sense of Wiggins, these groups are mostly from outside our discipline.

Applying this differentiation to the relational concept of creativity proposed in this paper, it is obvious that this concept is a psychologically defined one. One of the four aspects of this concept, i.e., the creativity of products, is psychologically defined in Table 3. The other three aspects, i.e., the creativity of environments, processes and persons, could be psychologically defined building upon the definition in Table 3.

On the So-called Creativity Tests

Especially in creativity research, the difference between socially and psychologically defined concepts is often ignored. Think, for example, of the so-called creativity tests designed to assess creativity. They explicitly presuppose that creativity is a property of persons. The relational character of the creativity concept is disguised by the usual procedure to fix the evaluation of the test performance once and for all in the test manual. And this is usually done by only one person, namely the test author. The underlying strategy is quite clear: a construct that is socially defined outside of psychology is reinterpreted as a construct that can be psychologically defined, and the construction is done by one psychologist or a small group of psychologists, which is in most cases identical with the test authors, without any concern of the vicissitudes of the social context.

If we acknowledge the social construction or constitution of the creativity concept not as a property of persons, but as a many-placed relation, the so-called creativity tests (e.g., Torrance, 1974) do not assess creativity as such, but, at best, certain resources of creativity as they are dealt with, for example, in the repeatedly mentioned investment theory of creativity of Sternberg and Lubart. I do not think that it is a bold conjecture if I claim that it is impossible to construct creativity tests. This statement is a direct implication of the relational and social character of the creativity concept I have tried to defend so far.

This does not devalue the so-called creativity tests. Although misnamed, they may have their function in assessing important resources of creativity. But that is an empirical question to be answered in appropriate validity studies which are more the exception than the rule. In the manual of the most recent German creativity test for preschool and school children (Krampen et al., 1996), for example, not even one appropriate validity study is mentioned. I would call a validity study ‘appropriate’, if the socially defined concept of creativity is considered when selecting a validity criterion.

The social-constructionist approach to creativity sheds light upon another very popular aspect of the conception of creativity as a property of persons. If we declare creativity to be an ability that is, for example, normally or, in certain respects, non-normally distributed within the total population, we do not announce a new discovery that was unknown before, even if many people are pleased to hear that there is, apparently, some amount of creativity in all of us. We only draw the consequences of our psychological construction of creativity as a quantitative concept that comes in degrees and is applicable even to persons who never produced a product that is called creative by the relevant persons or groups of persons that are in charge of evaluating the creativity of products in the respective domain.

The statement “Everyone is creative or can be creative” is not a discovery, but a structural implication of the respective construction of the concept of creativity. And if the creativity in everyone is measured by so-called creativity tests or anything comparable, the same critical arguments against the psychological reinterpretation of the socially defined concept of creativity in general, and against creativity tests in particular likewise apply.

The social construction of the creativity concept does not, in principle, exclude the application of the concept to everyday environments or to certain classes of persons, e.g., children. But without any products that satisfy the requirements of the definition in Table 3, an application of the creativity concept could not be justified.

On the Empirical Content of Psychological Theories

What remains to be discussed is, from a realist point of view, the apparently paradoxical situation that a psychological theory of creativity as, for example, the investment theory may be confirmed and refuted with regard to data of the same persons and the same performance products. This brings me to the last issue I would like to address in this paper: the status of empirical research in the social constructionist framework or, to be more precise, the empirical content of psychological theories.

I have to confess that constructionists are not very explicit as far as this topic is concerned. Some of their comments give the impression that not only our concepts, but everything is socially defined, negotiated and constructed; others, for example, the well known developmental psychologist Sandra Scarr (1985), adhere to the so-called scientific methods that are said to be able to differentiate between what is scientifically acceptable and what is only the result of idiosyncratic thinking, uneducated guess, and uncontrolled observation.

My answer to the question about the empirical content of psychological theories is heavily influenced by my structuralist view of psychological theories (cf. Westmeyer, 1989, 1992), but I think it is completely within the limits of a constructionist approach (cf. Westmeyer, 1995, p. 750). My answer is this:

(1)  A psychological theory, considered by itself, has no determinate or determinable empirical content.

(2)  An empirical content can be attributed to a psychological theory only if it has been embedded into a methodological environment which comprises all the methodical constructions to which one has to refer in the course of testing the theory.

(3)  Even then, it is impossible to specify a definite empirical content. The reason is that there are usually, among the respective methodical constructions, several options to choose from more or less freely. And the choices made may affect the empirical corroboration of the theory.

(4)  Not before decisions are made with regard to any point in question is it reasonable to ask about the empirical content of the set of theory elements, which arises out of the embedding of the psychological theory into a certain methodological environment. And only then does one stands to get more than a noncommittal answer.

(5)  The answer is, of course, dependent on the decisions (conventions, constructions, definitions) made earlier. If other decisions are made, the set of theory elements linked to each other will change, although the psychological theory as the reference point remains the same.

(6)  A research strategy that optimally matches this point of view could be called a monotheory-multimethod analysis.

To illustrate this conception, I would like to refer again to the investment theory of creativity of Sternberg and Lubart (1991). To determine the empirical content of this theory, it is necessary to embed the theory into a comprehensive theory net which comprises, for example, assessment structures, i.e., the products of the application of certain methods or procedures to assess the different kinds of resources and the evaluations of the so-called creative products. The problem is that the theory to be tested does not unequivocally determine what assessment procedures are to be applied and how this has to be done. A lot of questions of a substantive and methodical nature are left open by the theory, questions which can be answered in quite different ways, of course with unforeseeable consequences for the empirical corroboration of the theory. Table 5 lists some of these questions to be answered in the course of testing the theory.


Table 5. Some questions to be answered in the course of testing the investment theory of creativity

Which assessment procedures shall be used to measure the different cognitive, affective-conative, and environmental resources?

That is, how to assess the theoretically relevant aspects of intelligence, knowledge, intellectual style, personality, motivation, and environment?

If more than one measure is used for the assessment of a resource, how to combine different results per resource?

Which evaluation procedures shall be used to decide on the creativity of the products of the examinees’ work on the performance tasks?

Which persons or kinds of persons can be called upon to do the creativity rating?

If the rating is done by more than one person, how to combine different values per product?

Which statistical procedures shall be used to test the substantive assumptions of the theory?

If, for example, a multiple regression approach is chosen, how to decide upon the empirical corroboration of the theoretical assumptions concerning the interaction of different resources?

What counts as a very good, a good, or a just sufficient fit? etc.


All of these listed questions and, perhaps, many others are relevant to the investment theory and its reference to its intended applications. Only if all of these questions have been answered and the respective decisions made is this part of the theory net, or, to be more precise, the methodical environment of the theory, sufficiently determined to expect a reasonable answer to the question about the empirical content of the investment theory.

From a social constructionist point of view (cf. Westmeyer, 1996) it is important to notice that most of the decisions to be made cannot be based on the results of empirical research, but have to refer to social conventions, definitions and constructions. It is regrettable that we can find hardly anything about these imponderables in our textbooks of psychology in which the isolated presentation of psychological theories still prevail, which have, taken separately, no empirical content at all.


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