Posted on: 18/03/2024
By: Jule Schretzmeir

Creativity is often connected to imagination; it is the ability to produce original or unusual ideas and to make something new or imaginative (Cambridge University Press, n.d.). The term tends to be linked to artistic practices such as painting, composing music, or writing poetry. But what if the act of being creative is more than an artistic one? In this post, I will argue that creativity is a multifaceted practice, that goes hand in hand with learning and the development of critical thinking skills, adaptive behavior, and exploration. 


Defining Creativity in a Learning Context 

In education and other learning environments, creativity is often linked to the ability of a learner to problem-solve and approach tasks and projects with flexibility, originality, and novelty. It includes a wide variety of categories such as the making of products, expression of creative traits, and engagement in creative thinking, behavior and accomplishment (Kaufman, Plucker, & Baer, 2008). An example of creative expression in an academic context may involve a student developing or sharing a unique method to approach a math problem, or the implementation of a solution to a social problem at school by a group of students (Beghetto et al., 2021). Creativity can also be endorsed in other learning domains, such as language. For instance, by encouraging expression through writing in the form of letters, poetry, comics, and more, students can learn to reflect, express themselves, and take perspective. Likewise, structured reading activities can foster idea generation and exploration (Marcos et al., 2020). These practices have been shown to positively impact learning, improving academic achievement (Gajda, Karwowski & Beghetto, 2017, Karwowski et al., 2020).  

Creativity as a Positive Risk 

Beyond providing a platform for personal expression and academic achievement, creative thinking and behavior are associated with two very important yet overlooked elements: risk and failure. While these may sound negative at first, they are, in fact, crucial elements to the success of learning. Allowing for an environment in which students can explore their ideas, think outside of the box, and approach problems from new perspectives involves creative risk. This is a form of positive risk-taking that allows students to explore their environment using their creativity, thereby expanding their boundaries, and testing their strengths and limitations. Positive risks such as creative exploration can result in productive failures: setbacks that enhance learning and create opportunities for improvement (Henriksen et al., 2021). Productive failures are integral to the learning process, given that learning often involves multiple rounds of thinking, re-thinking, reworking, and adjusting. Giving space to creative risks allows students to learn that failures provide new insight that can be used in future endeavors. This can greatly increase students’ ability to learn from mistakes and challenges, ultimately allowing them to become resilient, adaptive learners. 


Fostering Creativity in the School Setting  

Increasing creative practices in the school setting is thus relevant on multiple levels: it creates a platform for personal development, familiarizes students with positive risks and productive failures that foster learning, and enhances deep, critical thinking and acting.  

To foster creativity in students, schools can begin by establishing a supportive environment where students feel safe to make and learn from mistakes. This can be done by establishing an atmosphere that focuses on the learning process rather than the product, integrates multidisciplinary approaches, and allows students to express ideas. For instance, teachers can apply guided inquiry as a teaching strategy, in which students get the possibility to explore ideas, discuss, and articulate their thoughts. These autonomy-encouraging activities can, in turn, support the development of student’s growth mindset, in which they view ability as adjustable and in their own control (Yu, Kreijkes & Salmela-Aro, 2022). Another way of fostering creativity is by using theater exercises in history lessons, or by connecting natural sciences to the humanities. Likewise, collaboration and cooperation in projects may enhance the exchange of ideas, providing students the ability to see the power of teamwork and fostering inclusivity and perspective-taking. 

Most importantly, we can begin by recognizing the power of creativity in learning. Creativity is an integral part of development and a catalyst for positive risk that can ultimately help us grow and navigate an ever-changing, complex world. We could start actively endorsing our own creative side, value the creative practice around us, and allow for this exploratory behavior and cognition in our learning environments. If we decide to embrace the creativity inside of us all, it may not only nurture our potential but also equip us to handle the challenges in our daily lives with ingenuity and resilience. 

Picture by J. Schretzmeir, 2022.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash.


Beghetto, R. A. (2021). Creative learning in education. In The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education (pp. 473–491). Springer International Publishing.  

Cambridge University Press. (n.d.). Creativity. In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved March 3rd, 2024 from 

Kaufman, J. C., Plucker, J. A., & Baer, J. (2008). Essentials of creativity assessment. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. 

Gajda, A., Karwowski, M., & Beghetto, R. A. (2017). Creativity and academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(2), 269–299. 

Henriksen, D., Henderson, M., Creely, E., Carvalho, A. A., Cernochova, M., Dash, D., Davis, T., & Mishra, P. (2021). Creativity and risk-taking in teaching and learning settings: Insights from six international narratives. International Journal of Educational Research Open, 2. 

Maciej Karwowski, Dorota M. Jankowska, Arkadiusz Brzeski, Marta Czerwonka, Aleksandra Gajda, Izabela Lebuda & Ronald A. Beghetto (2020) Delving into Creativity and Learning, Creativity Research Journal, 32:1, 4-16, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2020.1712165 

Schretzmeir, Jule. Brain on Clouds. 2022, pen on paper, digitized. Private collection. 

Segundo Marcos, R. I., López Ferández, V., Daza González, M. T., & Phillips-Silver, J. (2020). Promoting children’s creative thinking through reading and writing in a cooperative learning classroom. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 36. 

Yu, J., Kreijkes, P., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2022). Students’ growth mindset: Relation to teacher beliefs, teaching practices, and school climate. Learning and Instruction, 80, 101616. 

Setting up a large new research project like Growing Up Together in Society (or GUTS) is pretty much like embarking on an expedition into uncharted territory, is what I discovered. In this blog, I will reveal how I have experienced this adventure so far, from the spark of curiosity that started it all until the next step we are about to undertake: starting our data collection journey.


  1. The Spark of Curiosity

One of the most exciting things about doing research is the moment when you get a new idea. You hear or read new information, couple it with your existing knowledge, and boom – there it is. A spark that ignites your curiosity. Funnily enough, this always seems to happen to me when I take a step back from my regular workdays filled with meetings and take some time to explore nature, attend an interesting talk, or speak with a fellow researcher. It feels like a fire from that point onwards: it takes me over completely and propels me into action. How can I sharpen this question? What are the best methods to answer this question? Can I set up a research project to get all of this going?

For GUTS, the process was a bit different for me, as I got involved when the 19 principal investigators had already drafted a research proposal and were awarded funding to start the project. Nonetheless, when they told me about their plans, I could feel it again: the spark, a kind of warmth and enthusiasm you feel inside when you hear a really good idea. In this case, I was particularly inspired by the idea that self-regulation – the ability to control one’s behavior – in adolescents is not only influenced by when a certain rewarding outcome takes place but also by who is rewarded by those outcomes. Researchers have traditionally studied self-regulation using tasks in which adolescents choose between a small reward now and a larger reward later – a bit like choosing between watching an immediately rewarding Netflix show now or studying for an exam that takes place later in time. In GUTS, we not only study how decisions are influenced by the timing of the rewarding outcome but also how it is integrated into one’s social context: is the reward for oneself, a friend, or an unfamiliar other? This is important because it gives us a better understanding of how self-regulation works in adolescents’ highly social daily lives.

  1. Drafting a Map: Working on the Study Design with Our Crew

Once the questions are defined, it’s time to draft a map of how we will get to the answers. In other words, we want to outline the study design, including the methodology, variables to be studied, and analysis plans. We have been working on the details of this map in the last year. The larger outline was already in place. For example, in the subproject that I’m working on, we will study the optimal conditions for growing up in 600 adolescents, using both behavioral measures, questionnaires, and neuroimaging methods. The design period has been a particularly interesting and informative time for me, as this was my first project in which we tried to do so with a very large team of over 25 researchers. Working together in such a large team has advantages: there is the diversity of ideas, skill sets, and working methods, which brought measurement instruments and tools to my attention that I would have never come up with myself. It is also very nice to distribute the workload among team members and to build upon their expertise.

There are also challenges. For example, I had not considered before how much decision-making slows down when you consider input from a large group of people. Compared to my PhD project, in which I worked in a smaller team, there is also some role ambiguity. In my PhD project, I knew that I was responsible for most of the project, spurring me into action. As a team grows, responsibilities may become less defined or more difficult to communicate. Finally, it can also be a challenge when working with multiple universities to align communication and data management channels, as different individuals use different tools and resources.

This process has been incredibly educational for me, as I have learned a lot about ways in which the strengths of the team can be used, while challenges can be overcome. For example, working in such a large team requires proactive management, team building to improve group cohesion and a sense of responsibility and belonging, and a supportive leadership approach. I have been very lucky to grow a lot as a person and as a researcher from this process, particularly by learning from the other researchers on the project who have modeled effective ways in which to collaborate. I am very curious to see how the collaboration works out during the consecutive parts of the project.

  1. Navigating Ethical Considerations

Before we can set sail and start our data collection journey, it is important to consider important ethical aspects of the study. For GUTS, we did this by applying for ethical approval from the Medical Ethical Committee of the Erasmus Medical Centre. To this end, we considered what is needed to ensure the rights and well-being of participants and provided detailed documentation of the study’s procedures, risks, and benefits. Given the magnitude of the GUTS project, the entire process of obtaining ethical approval for the subproject I am working on has already taken several months. It has been a valuable experience to work out ethical aspects of our project I had no prior experience with, such as coupling our datasets to large, existing datasets, and balancing our curiosity – and tendency to measure a lot of things – with participants’ well-being – which is not necessarily improved by filling out endless sets of questionnaires. It has also been a nice exercise to consider everything we as researchers have learned from prior research projects regarding participants’ ‘research journey’, from recruitment to tracking progress, and from time investment and how we reward their participation, and to incorporate it into GUTS. We hope to get ethical approval soon so that we can start with actual data collection soon – one step closer to answering the questions that started it all!

  1. Data Collection Odyssey

In the upcoming months, we will focus on data collection. This is a real team effort, which we will undertake with not only the GUTS core team but also with over 15 students who will assist GUTS as part of their research internships and thesis work. Collecting multiple types of data on 600 adolescents is obviously a massive undertaking, but I hope that the entire team will also experience it the way I experienced data collection in my PhD project: as a lot of fun! Meeting the participants gives a new dimension and new perspectives on the data, as they often provide feedback on measurement instruments and procedures. Moreover, spending time with your fellow researchers during data collection has in my experience resulted in lifelong collaborations and sometimes even friendships. But perhaps most importantly, in time, we expect our ‘Expedition GUTS’ to contribute to new knowledge about optimal ways in which adolescents can grow up, including the role of self-regulation in this process. And, given the cyclic nature of doing research, mapping this formerly uncharted territory will not mark the end but a new beginning. A beginning of new sparks of curiosity, fresh research questions, and a new generation of researchers who will build on our work, collectively moving science forward.


Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash.

As children get older, they face a variety of social challenges that can have a substantial impact on their development into resilient adults. Some move through these problems effortlessly, developing adaptive traits, while others struggle with problems that may have a long-term impact on their mental health.

Consider the transfer from one school to another, this can be relatively easy for children who have no difficulty developing relationships but can be substantially more stressful for those who struggle with social interactions. Furthermore, there is variation in how these situations affect children. While rejection at a new school may cause more negative feelings, it can also be that these feelings fade more quickly for others. The question that arises is: how do these self-regulatory traits develop during childhood and when do the differences arise?

Self-regulation in the brain

To understand self-regulation, we can conduct experiments to see how the brain reacts to socially stressful situations like rejection, and especially how children moderate their reactions to these situations. The Social Network Aggression Task is an experiment designed for this issue. In this experiment, people are given positive or negative feedback, followed by being instructed to let the person who gave them the feedback listen to a noise with the freedom to determine the noise’s intensity. Intriguingly, research reveals that children who respond more strongly to negative feedback, evidenced by louder noise blasts, exhibit visible differences in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (a brain region dedicated to self-control). Aside from having distinct aggressive responses, it is also clear that there is a different reaction over time during development. Middle childhood appears to be a key phase for demonstrating self-regulation abilities.

This does however not provide us with a comprehensive picture of who these children are, nor does it indicate whether this is simply applicable during rejection or whether it is a trait-specific effect on the children. That is ultimately what we hope to learn. Why do children exhibit such a wide range of self-regulation responses in our daily social interactions?

Capturing patterns throughout the day

Therefore, as part of my GUTS PhD project, we want to get a broader understanding of self-regulation. That is, we wish to quantify social interaction in everyday life. This is possible thanks to a relatively new method becoming increasingly popular in large-scale research: experience sampling. How are we going to accomplish this? We live in an online world, and while using a smartphone rarely is viewed positively, it may be quite beneficial in the context of this study. Participants are instructed to complete quick questionnaires on their phones throughout the day. This can range from questions about feelings to social interactions. We can then identify patterns of daily social experiences because it is questioned repeatedly throughout the day!

Ultimately, the GUTS consortium hopes to learn how children grow up in an increasingly complex society. In this study, we hope to learn how children cope with stressful situations like rejection, as well as minor but significant events like social pressure, by disentangling momentary experiences. Later, we will also include the brain in our research to see if the neural differences in activity that are discovered during experiments like the Social Network Aggression Task, can be linked to person-specific patterns of self-regulation in everyday life as well.


Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash.

‘An important question in my research is how we can counter bullying. I don’t see bullying as an individual problem but as a group issue,’ explains René Veenstra in a video about his research.

The video, made by Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, addresses the further implications of Veenstra’s research, including the effectiveness of the anti-bullying program KiVa.

Visit the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen website to watch the video.


René Veenstra is professor of Sociology at University of Groningen and and steering committee of the GUTS program. Veenstra’s research focuses on the theoretical and empirical elaboration of a social network approach to bullying and victimization and pro- and antisocial behavior. He is Director of the Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS), the Netherlands.