Creativity, that is the ability to face situations in a new way – Interview to Alessandro Antonietti

Alessandro Antonietti is full professor and Dean of the Faculty of Psychology at the Catholic University of Milan.
He is director of the Research Center on Orientation and Socio-professional Development (CROSS) and responsible for the Service of Psychology of Learning and Education in the Age of Development (SPAEE) and since 1997 he is the coordinator of the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology at the Catholic University.
He has carried out theoretical and experimental studies mainly in the field of cognitive psychology and learning, focusing his attention on the processes involved in creativity, problem solving and decision making, with particular attention to metacognition, analogical thinking and visual-spatial reasoning. He has been interested in the development of tests and training for the development of specific thinking strategies, also exploiting the potential of technology. He has also investigated the psychology of music and music therapy, preparing and testing materials and procedures for the rehabilitation of cognitive operations. He has dealt with theoretical, methodological and historical issues of psychology.


Creativity is the ability to deal with situations in a new way, finding a way to produce something different or to behave differently from what was there before or was usual until that moment. It is important that what is new is significant, either because it is useful and responds to some demand or need from the environment or because it leads people to grasp an aspect of the situation not previously highlighted. Otherwise you just have oddity or originality as an end in itself.


Creativity is a field in which the person can mature an integral development of their potential and in which individuals subject to the risk of dysfunctional thinking can find help to overcome their difficulties. In particular, promoting creativity helps to develop dimensions of the person that an excessive preoccupation with logical rigor, emotional control or social adaptation leads to atrophy. Rigid habits, which leave no room for change and experimentation with alternatives, also stifle the imagination. Instead, by engaging in activities that require the activation of their sensitivity and imaginative resources, the individual can achieve a state of self-realization because they find a way to express their own point of view on reality and to customize what is around them by imprinting their own “imprint”. Self-realization, personalization, satisfaction in life are ingredients of well-being and therefore it is clear how creativity can contribute to it.

However, creativity also has a more practical meaning, which concerns the ability to solve in an original way situations for which the usual strategies do not work. Many problems of daily life require, in order to be faced and overcome, a certain amount of creativity. If I have to uncork a bottle and I do not have the usual bottle opener available, I will have to be ingenious and find a different way to reach my goal: try to use a cutlery, swipe the cork ring against the edge of the table, pull the cork after wrapping it with a string, for example. So creativity helps well-being because in various circumstances it suggests how to cope.

Creativity is also useful in solving difficult situations from a relational point of view. In everyday life, “creative” finds can reactivate a disappointed and unmotivated person by pretending to need them (I want to help you but I’m doing the opposite, i.e. I’m asking for your help) or make them do a boring job by making it seem important (do you remember how Tom Sawyer, who had to paint the fence as a punishment, actually made his friends do this job by making them believe it was a privilege, for which they had to pay?).

Solving practical problems, finding ways out of difficult interpersonal relationships, giving personal meaning to one’s life: all contribute to well-being, and creativity can help in this regard.


For many years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been proposing a line of intervention that aims to develop life skills in the population, i.e., the skills that should allow citizens to take care of their health by documenting, critically evaluating information, carefully considering possible choices and making wise decisions. Among the life skills that WHO seeks to increase is creativity.


For the caregiver, creativity can be a resource for solving professional situations in which work routines or habitual ways of doing things need to be changed. For example, while for most patients it is enough to prescribe a treatment and be confident that they will follow it, for some patients it is necessary to devise ways to get them to follow it: as in the case of Tom Sawyer, it may be a matter of finding a way to present it to the patient in a way that motivates them. For example, not proposing it as an intervention to cure or prevent, but describing it as a way to enhance an aspect of oneself that the patient cares about. Even the organization of space, time, and shifts in one’s practice or health care facilities may require some creativity to be made more functional. From the patient’s point of view, creativity is useful when he or she has to reorganize his or her daily routine because of a temporary or chronic physical problem: if it is necessary to rearrange one’s home, one’s schedule, one’s own and others’ behavior, the flexibility of thought and attitude that is linked to creativity becomes useful again.


In this area there is a need to understand, in the many experiences of “therapeutic” use of music that are documented, what exactly produces beneficial effects. Is it the pleasure that music produces, therefore an effect of motivation, disposition or relaxation? Or is it the social dimension: does participation in music therapy sessions become an opportunity to be together with others, to enter into relationship with them and come out of one’s own isolation and feel part of a group? If this were the case, music would have nothing special because similar effects could be obtained with other kinds of activities that produce serenity or social contacts. Or are specific psychological mechanisms activated by music that allow or favor the rehabilitation of certain functions? This last direction is the most interesting to investigate. We discover, for example, that it is precisely the mechanism of rhythmic entrainment of music that helps to develop or recover linguistic skills (see the site or that it is the emotional tuning induced by music that facilitates the strengthening of relational skills.

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