COLUMBUS, Ohio – If you think the great scientists are the most creative when they are young, there is no part of the story.
A new Nobel Prize winner in the field of economics finds that there are two different life cycles of creativity that hits some people at the beginning of their careers, and another that is more likely to be born later in life.
In this study, the early peak was found for laureates in the mid-20s and later for a peak in the mid-1950s.
The study supports previous work by authors who have found similar patterns in the arts and other sciences.
"We believe that what we found in this study is not just about the economy, but it can be applied to creativity more generally," said Bruce Weinberg, lead author of the research and professor of economics at the State University of Ohio.
"Many people believe that creativity is exclusively related to youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you are talking about."
Weinberg conducted the study with David Gallenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. Their study appears in a special issue of the magazine De Economist,
In the survey, the Nobel Prize winners, who made their most innovative work at the beginning of their career, were "conceptual" innovators.
This type of innovator "thinks outside the box", evoking conventional wisdom and suddenly inventing new ideas. Conceptual innovators are prone to starting their careers before immersing themselves in the area's accepted theories, Weinberg said.
But there is another kind of work, he said, who is among the "experimental" innovators. These innovators accumulate knowledge through their careers and find innovative ways to analyze, interpret and synthesize this information in new ways of understanding.
Long periods of trial and error required for important experimental innovations make them appear late in the career of the Nobel laureate.
"Whether you have reached your creative peak lately or later in your career depends on whether you have a conceptual or experimental approach," Weinberg said.
Researchers took a new, empirical approach to the study involving 31 laureates. They rank the laureates in a list of the most experimental to the most conceptual.
This ranking is based on specific, objective characteristics of the laureates' most important work that are indicative of a conceptual or experimental approach.
For example, conceptual economists tend to use assumptions, evidence and equations and have a mathematical application or an introduction to their papers.
Experimental economists rely on a direct conclusion of the facts so that their documents have had more references to specific elements such as places, time periods, and industries or commodities.
After the laureates' classification, the researchers determine the age at which each laureate makes its most important contribution to the economy and can be considered at its creative peak.
They did this through a convention on how academic circles assess the value and impact of the study. The document is more influential in the field when other scientists mention – or cite – the newspaper in their own work. So the more quotes accumulate, the more influential it is.
Weinberg and Gallenson have used two different methods of calculating the age at which the laureates are quoted the most often and thus have been at the height of their creativity.
Both methods have found that conceptual laureates have reached their peak at about 29 or 25 years of age. Experimental laureates reached a peak when they were approximately twice as old – about 57 in one method or in the mid-50s in the other.
Most other studies in this field have explored the differences in peak age of creativity between disciplines such as physics and medical science. These studies usually find small variations in the various disciplines, with creativity reaching its peak in the mid-1930s to the early 1940s in most science fields.
"These studies attribute the differences in the creative peaks of the nature of the sciences themselves, not the scientists who do the work," Weinberg said.
"Our research suggests that when you are the most creative, it is less of a product of the scientific field you are in, and it is more about how you approach the work you do."
The researchers were supported by scholarships from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Aging, the National Institute of Health for Behavioral and Social Science Studies, and the foundations of Ewing Marion Kaufmann and Alfred P. Sloan.
The special question of De Economist This study also includes the first Nobel Prize for Economics given in 1969. One of the recipients is the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen.
Contact: Bruce Weinberg, [email protected]
Author: Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; [email protected]
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