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Does Creativity Decline with Age?

13 February 2016

From Scientific American:

Does creativity decline with age?

This question has attracted scientific research for more than a century. In fact, the first empirical study of this issue was published in 1835. Thus, I can offer a confident answer: not quite! At least not if creativity is assessed by productivity or by making original and valuable contributions to fields such as science and art. By that measure, output first increases in our mid-20s, climaxes around our late 30s or early 40s, and then undergoes a slow decline as we age. A person’s single best work tends to appear at roughly the same age as their output peaks. But their expected creative productivity at 80 will still be about half of what it was at that high point. Whether you view that as a significant drop or not depends on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.

. . . .

First, the precise relation between age and creativity depends on the domain. Some creative types—such as lyrical poets and mathematicians—tend to have early peaks and relatively rapid declines, whereas others—among them, historians and philosophers—are prone to later peaks and gradual, even negligible declines.

Second, creative people vary greatly in total lifetime productivity. At one extreme are the one-hit wonders, who make single contributions; their creativity is almost over before it begins. At the other end of the spectrum are highly prolific creators who make dozens, if not hundreds, of contributions and who are often still going strong well into their 60s and 70s, if not beyond.

. . . .

One striking implication of these results is that it seems unlikely that creative declines are caused simply by aging brains. If that were the case, it would be hard to explain why the creative path differs by domain, lifetime output, or the time someone embarks on his or her career. After all, late bloomers reach creative peaks at ages when early bloomers are past their prime.

Link to the rest at Scientific American


40 Comments to “Does Creativity Decline with Age?”

  1. With respect to “But their expected creative productivity at 80 will still be about half of what it was at that high point”…I’ll take that half!

  2. Some late bloomers do not truly hit their stride until their 60s or 70s.

    Sounds good!

    I’ve been writing since childhood, and pursued creative jobs that included fiction writing, but I didn’t embark on the indie path (before the indie path had emerged, as such – this was 2007) until I was 47. I’m totally onboard with late blooming! 😀

  3. Isn’t 60 the new 40? lol

    Another late bloomer here. Writing was just something I did, but I didn’t consider myself to be a writer of any sort until my 40’s and it was not until I self-published my first book at age 60 that I finally felt comfortable /calling/ myself a writer.

    Now I just have to see how much I can produce before that unfortunate decline. 🙂

    • Don’t forget to leave lots of unfinished manuscripts in an old trunk for your heirs to publish posthumously.

      • Hah! No way. Why should they get all the fun? I do admit though that they’ll probably rake in all the money as I don’t see my books taking off until I’m long gone…;)

  4. What decline? I’m 77 and working on my 4th thriller and have three other books as WIP. [Started three years ago]. Too many ideas to cope with – write faster!

  5. Creativity in old age is totally an individual thing. Factors such as general health, mental health, experience and passion are all involved.

    My mother, Sylvia Hyman, was an internationally renowned ceramic sculptor. The Smithsonian has two of her pieces. She was still working up to the time of her death in 2012 at age 95. While she was deteriorating physically (including macular degeneration), she continued creating fresh work with the help of her studio assistant.

    At 66, I’m writing my 101st novel. The others were traditionally published but this one I will self-publish, as I’ve done with some of my backlist. After many years in the romance genre, I’m returning to writing mysteries, and have been pleased and relieved to find that the plot twists come as readily as ever. And this is despite my having undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer five years ago.

    I don’t write as fast as I used to. That’s because I write better.

  6. John, you are an officer and a gentleman. I agree and my heart man, is made happy to hear about your successful saga.

    I keep remembering Grandma Moses didnt start painting til I think, age mid-70-something or other. But also, the old generals, many wrote their strategies in their late years, knowing what worked, what was perilous, in order to better guide. And then I think of the century plant we have here that only blooms every 100 years, meaning it is full and lush, but just that its greatest burst of beauty comes when it is time.

    Then I think of stars condensing and under that pressure burning all the more brightly, and I think John we and others, including the somewhat younger to the far younger here, can set their course for the stars.

    So much unknown about the days and nights of growing ‘older’, ‘growing,’ I think, being the operant word. Watching our friends fall. But then they fell when we were young too, didnt they. Just the sound of tall trees falling more often now. And yet, like AC’s and Gordon’s humor and JM’s ever sweet positivity, and Walt’s gung ho that will grab the half-full glass with vigor, Jacqueline’s 101st novel!! and her mother! and your scoffing, well earned, re the word ‘decline’ –for you are on 4th book with three others as WIP… that is just beyond cool.

    The only things that are true is what we all live. What we are living right now. I find tropes on who is creative and why/how or not, boring, for it would appear that like trying to measure a misty angel for a macintosh, one cant pin down the whirling wings and winds of creative life. It has us. We dont have it. Just for starters.

    An old rancher might have more knowing, but a young rancher is born to good instincts. Cherished tradition for us older to try, if we can, to teach, help, encourage the earnest younger ones, the less experienced, no matter their age. An honor really to teach the tack and what horses will last, and how to shelter from or ride out the storm. And how every day if you can, just stand on the ridge at sunset and feast on that the sun will come again.

    I’d be proud to ride fence lines with any of those here. Their hopeful and hardworking/hardearned wisdoms offered here day after day, are one of the reasons I keep riding back to this place. Be well John. Live long and strong. Easy does it.

  7. In 2010 I decided to rekindle (get it?) my love of writing after wasting decades of my life building companies owned by other people.

    I had a four drawer file cabinet stuffed with stories, plots, and summaries from the 70s and 80s that I intended to dust off and rewrite with my my older frame of mind.

    That file cabinet still sits stuffed, because I haven’t found time to dig into it. Too busy with all my new stuff from the 2000s.

    I’m sixty-one. I’ll never stop creating new stuff.


  8. Started writing seriously in my late 60s. Still going at 79. Hope I have the time to get it all out there.

  9. I’ve been writing and published professionally since age 14. Can’t say I peaked at any particular age – this is my 4th decade of having books published. I have slowed down lately, but only because I’m lucky enough to be able to explore new kinds of writing that might take time paying off. I have a couple of bucket list projects I hope will come off. Most writers I know are still going in their 80s and 90s, as I plan on doing.

  10. I love reading all these comments. So filled with upward and onward!

  11. I’m 68.5 and I can testify that creativity continues into the later period of life. You can keep creating new stuff, you just have a harder time remembering where you put it.

    • This!

      Had that great idea while doing something else, but now in front of the keyboard (or with found pad/pen) there’s nothing left but mush …

    • That was funny Michael Brown. Too true sometimes. The other day somehow the coffee got made without putting the carafe under the pourer. Nice big puddle of coffee running off the counter. No harm. But I think as long as I dont find my truck keys in the fridge and the pot roast hanging on the key hook by the door, I’m ok. lol. Keep on, man.

  12. I’m 59.5 and I’ve been writing, off and on, since I was twelve. Just this last year did I start taking my writing seriously. I don’t think I’ll try to fix that first “novel” (a 50-page Dark Shadows-inspired vampire story) but I am repairing the novels I wrote in the 1980s — and I’m having a blast with them. 🙂

    It’s encouraging to see from everyone’s comments that I didn’t start too late!

    • I think one is only ‘too late to start’ when one’s boots are pointing up to the sky permanently Deb. I like hearing that you are having fun repairing… I hope that encourages others to maybe take out some good but in need of a few stitched and splints old ms, and fix em up.

      • Yup. 🙂 I figure after 40 more years of reading (at 100 books per year, I’m up 40,000 books (eek!)) and with so much more writing practice, I’m a far better writer than I was way back when.

        If you still love them, don’t give up on those trunk novels, even if you decide to rewrite them from scratch.

  13. I just turned forty so apparently I’m at my peak for absolutely everything ever.

  14. I’m in my 50s, I aim to keep on writing for another 50 yrs. It’s so exciting and thrilling bringing all my youthful ideas to the page and able to freely offer them to readers.
    Terrific stories from the other commenters, thank you, all power to you.

  15. I’m in my early 60s with almost 20 self-published books and another 20 or so stories published traditionally in magazines and anthologies. This has all happened in the last decade and a half or so. I’m just now shoving the shift into second gear…

  16. I’ll turn 61 this year and after a lifetime of creative pursuits, this is probably the most creative twelve months I’ve ever had. Books, plays, music, art, I’ve been doing it all, and reaching well beyond my comfort zone.

    I think a lot this has to do with the fact that I realize I probably only have a couple decades left and there are still a lot of things inside me I need to get out before I bite the big one.

  17. I’m 65 and I just self published my eighth book in 2-1/2 years. The ninth, a Montlake Romance imprint, will be released on March 8. If anything I’m more creative now than I was when I worked full-time and had a 1-1/2 hour commute each way. Amazing how much more creative you can be when you have the time.

  18. “Does Creativity Decline with Age?”

    Question, so ,no …

    But yes! My creativity at making bad jokes has declined. My creativity when putting up with idiots has declined.

    But I’m rewriting something I started when I first tried this writing thingy, and my alpha/beta readers seem to think my creativity in story telling has improved — at least a ‘little’ … (eh, what do they know? 😉 )

  19. I haven’t done any painting in years, so that has declined precipitously, but I am about to publish my 6th book and am outlining the 7th.

    So my creativity shifted. Did anyone look at that sort of thing?

  20. I’m 67, retired a year and a half ago. Published 5 ebooks since then, and just getting warmed up.

    I feel great reading all of these fine examples and note, that it’s not age alone that’s rejected as a limitation constricting creativity. It’s illness and disability in all its forms. It’s poverty. It’s terrible parenting and bad teachers, and tragic accidents.

    Nothing gets in our way, fundamentally, until we let it.

  21. Does creativity decline? Not sure. But gravity surely increases.

  22. <I."Does Creativity Decline with Age?"

    Only after you die! 🙂

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