Are all highly intelligent people creative

Relationship between creativity and intelligence

Geniuses like Thomas Alva Edison (inventor of numerous innovations in electrical engineering and electricity), Leonardo da Vinci (among others artist, engineer and philosopher) or the world-famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are said not only to be extraordinarily creative but also to be highly intelligent. Creativity is the ability to produce novel and valuable ideas. Intelligence describes the ability to solve problems, learn from experience and adapt to new situations through knowledge.

Is there a connection between creativity and intelligence? Do you need high intelligence to create great new ideas?

Correlation of creativity and intelligence up to an IQ of 120

People who do well in intelligence tests (e.g. HAWIE) also generally achieve good results in creativity tests (e.g. TTCT). However, scientific studies suggest that this positive relationship only exists up to an intelligence quotient (IQ) of around 120. Especially creative artists, architects, scientists and engineers are usually not more intelligent (in the sense of an intelligence test) than their colleagues.

Cognitive filters as a barrier to creativity

Dr. Shelley Carson researches at Harvard University on the subject of creativity. Their studies and explanations suggest that high creative output is related to the brain's stimulus filtering. Carson assumes that the latent inhibition (cognitive stimulus filtering) is less pronounced in creative people than in non-creative people. She derives her conjecture from observations in her studies. In these studies, creative people were more easily distracted than less creative subjects: creative people are therefore more open to sensory impressions. As a result, they may process more information and this results in original ideas and thoughts. In combination with a high intelligence quotient, Carson believes that the weak latent inhibition could lead to particularly high levels of creativity. Their reasoning: latent inhibition provides a wealth of information and a high IQ ensures a better distinction between relevant and non-relevant information.

Creativity-promoting factors

Based on their creativity studies, Sternberg and Lubart identified five factors that promote creativity in creative people:

  1. Expert knowledge
    A lot of information and a lot of knowledge also increases the possibility of association, combination and connection of these “bits of information”.
  2. Imaginative thinking
    Imaginative thinking makes it easier to get off the beaten track.
  3. Willingness to take risks
    An increased willingness to take risks leads to unusual, initially not very promising thoughts being pursued. Many inventors fail before they achieve a breakthrough many times.
  4. Intrinsic motivation
    Especially creative achievements usually arise when there is an inner motivation. External incentives such as money or pressure can affect creative performance.
  5. Creative environment
    Creative people are often surrounded by other creative people. Creative achievements are often the result of joint work and mutual support.


The connection between creativity and intelligence has not yet been clarified. Studies show some correlation up to an IQ of around 120. The current consensus is that intelligence is probably just one of several factors influencing creativity.


MacKinnon, D.W. & Hall, W.B. (1972). Intelligence and creativity. In Proceedings XVIIth International Congress of Applied Psychology (Vol. 2). Brussels: Editest

Simonton, D.K. (2000). Creativity: Cognitive, personal, developmental, and social aspects. American Psychologist, 55, p. 151-158