Generativity Theory

Generativity Theory is a formal, predictive theory of creative behavior in individuals. First proposed by American psychologist Robert Epstein in the early 1980s, the theory asserts that novel behavior is the result of a dynamic interaction among previously established behaviors; in other words, new ideas result from interconnections among old ones.

Generativity Theory suggests that creativity is a skill that can be learned,[1] and specifies strategies that increase creativity and innovation: Challenging, Broadening, Surrounding and Capturing.[2]

The theory asserts that the process of interconnection is both orderly and predictable. In a series of studies with animals and people, Epstein showed that Generativity Theory, cast into a series of equations called "transformation functions" and instantiated in a computer model, could be used to predict novel, creative behavior moment-to-moment in time in both animals and people under controlled laboratory conditions. Computer models derived from Generativity Theory generate a series of smooth, overlapping probability curves, each representing a possible behavior that can occur in a new situation, together comprising what Epstein calls a "probability profile". He also developed a new graphical technique called a "frequency profile", which demonstrates the orderliness of actual novel performances. The curves of a frequency profile can be predicted by Epstein's equations.

Epstein's research and theoretical work on this topic were summarized in a series of studies published in prestigious journals such as Science, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Psychological Science. Perhaps the most famous study in this series was a pigeon study called "'Insight' in the Pigeon: Antecedents and Determinants of an Intelligent Performance", published in the British scientific journal Nature in 1984.[3] In this study, Epstein and his colleagues showed: (a) that pigeons that had been taught appropriate minimum component behaviors could solve the classic box-and-banana problem, first studied by the German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler in the early 1900s; (b) that varying the training with different pigeons led to orderly and distinctly different outcomes; and (c) that the emergence of novel behavior in this situation was orderly and predictable.

A number of his articles on this topic were collected in 1996 in a book called Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior.[4] Over the years, Generativity Theory has given rise to a new competency-based technology for enhancing creativity in both individuals and groups, summarized in an extensive review in the Encyclopedia of Creativity,[5] in Epstein's book The Big Book of Creativity Games,[6] in a 2008 study published in the Creativity Research Journal,[7] and in articles in Psychology Today, Scientific American Mind, and elsewhere.


  1. ^ Corbett, Rod. Creativity in the Workplace, Sept 16 2012
  2. ^ Cutts, Nicole, Diversity of Thought: What is it and How do You Leverage It? [ Walter Kaitz Foundation website], Retrieved Dec 15 2012
  3. ^ (Epstein et al., 1984)
  4. ^ (Epstein, 1996)
  5. ^ (Epstein, 1999)
  6. ^ (Epstein, 2000)
  7. ^ (Epstein et al., 2008)


  • Epstein, R.; Kirshnit, C.E.; Lanza, R.P.; Rubin, L.C. (1984). ""Insight" in the Pigeon: Antecedents and Determinants of an Intelligent Performance". Nature. 308 (5954): 61–62. doi:10.1038/308061a0. PMID 6700713.
  • Epstein, R. (1996). Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays. Praeger.
  • Epstein, R. (2000). The Big Book of Creativity Games. McGraw-Hill.
  • Epstein, R. (1999). "Generativity Theory". In Runco, M.A.; Pritzker, S. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Creativity. Academic Press.
  • Epstein, R.; Schmidt, S.M.; Warfel, R. (2008). "Measuring and Training Creativity Competencies: Validation of a New Test". Creativity Research Journal. 20: 7–12. doi:10.1080/10400410701839876.

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