How does age affect creativity? Study on Nobel Prize winners offer clues

Creativity doesn't fade as you get older, but it may change, a new study shows.

An examination of 31 winners of the Nobel Prize in economics found an early peak of winners in their mid-20s and a later peak of winners in their mid-50s.

Different kinds of creativity

"We believe what we found in this study isn't limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally," said lead author Bruce Weinberg, a professor of economics and public administration at Ohio State University.

In fact, previous research by his same team found similar age-related patterns in other sciences and the arts.

"Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you're talking about," Weinberg said in a university news release.

It found that younger Nobel Prize winners tend to be "conceptual" innovators who challenge conventional wisdom and come up with new ideas suddenly.

Older winners tend to be "experimental" innovators. They amass knowledge through their careers and find ground-breaking ways to analyse, interpret and distil it into new ways of understanding, the authors explained.

Difference in peak ages

"Whether you hit your creative peak early or late in your career depends on whether you have a conceptual or experimental approach," Weinberg said.

Most other studies in this area have focused on differences in peak ages of creativity in different scientific fields. Generally, they have found that creativity in most peaks in the mid-30s to early 40s.

"These studies attribute differences in creative peaks to the nature of the scientific fields themselves, not to the scientists doing the work," Weinberg said.

"Our research suggests than when you're most creative is less a product of the scientific field that you're in and is more about how you approach the work you do," he added.

The new study was published in a special issue of the journal De Economist.

Image credit: iStock

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