Creativity and Reinforced Variability

  • Allen Neuringer


Campbell (1960) argued that random variations are essential for creativity because, if an act is truly novel or original, it cannot be anticipated or preformulated. A random process implies, according to Campbell, that generation of variations cannot be accounted for by knowledge of prior environmental events. (Ultimately the environment selects from among the variations [see Donahoe, this volume], but Campbell’s focus, and that of the present paper, is on the variation process itself.) Campbell was convincing that variability is necessary for creativity—replication is not creative—but contemporary research shows that the process by which variations are generated is in fact influenced by the environment. Variable versus repetitive actions, levels of variability, the set of possible variants, and the probability of unlikely combinations; all of these are directly affected by consequences. Stated simply, behavioral variability can be reinforced. To the extent that variability is necessary, creativity may wither in the absence of environmental support. This claim is both controversial, because many believe that reinforcement is detrimental to creativity, a claim to which I shall return, and important, because it indicates a direction for educational and social policy.


Intrinsic Motivation Experimental Subject Animal Behavior Process Comic Book Reinforcement Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amabile, T. M. (1983). The Social psychology of Creativity. New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balsam, P. D., Deich, J. D., Ohyama, T., & Stokes, P. D. (1998). Origins of new behavior. In W. O’Donohue (Ed.) Learning and Behavior Therapy (pp. 403–420 ). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  3. Balsam, P. D., Paterniti, A. Zechowy, K., & Stokes, P. D. (2002). Outcomes and behavioral variability: Disappointment induced variation. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought & action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Blough, D. S. (1966). The reinforcement of least frequent interresponse times. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 9, 581–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brugger, P. (1997). Variables that influence the generation of random sequences: An update. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 627 - 661.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cameron, J., Banko, K. M., & Pierce, D. W. (2001). Pervasive negative effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation: The myth continues. The Behavior Analyst, 24, 1–44.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cameron, J., & Pierce, W. D. (1994). Reinforcement, reward, and intrinsic motivation: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64, 363–423.Google Scholar
  9. Campbell, D. T. (1960). Blind variation and selective retention in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67, 380–400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cherot, C., Jones, A., & Neuringer, A. (1996). Reinforced variability decreases with approach to reinforcers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 22, 497–508.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chomsky, N. (1959). Verbal Behavior. By B. F. Skinner. Language, 35, 26–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–668.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  14. Denney, J., & Neuringer, A. (1998). Behavioral variability is controlled by discriminative stimuli. Animal Learning & Behavior, 26, 154–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Eisenberger, R., & Armeli, S. (1997). Can salient reward increase creative performance without reducing intrinsic creative interest? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 652–663.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flaherty, C. F. (1996). Incentive relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Flora, S. R. (1990). Undermining intrinsic interest from the standpoint of a behaviorist. The Psychological Record, 40, 323–346.Google Scholar
  18. Goetz, E. M., & Baer, D. M. (1973). Social control of form diversity and emergence of new forms in children’s block building. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 6, 209–217.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heidelberger, M. (1987). Fechner’s indeterminism: from freedom to laws of chance. In Kruger, L. et. al (Eds.). The Probabilistic Revolution, Vol. 1: Ideas in History (pp. 117–156 ). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hermstein, R. J. (1997). (H. Rachlin & D. I. Laibson, Eds.). The Matching Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Knuth, D. E. (1969). The art of computer programming. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  22. Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28, 129–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Machado, A. (1989). Operant conditioning of behavioral variability using a percentile reinforcement schedule. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 52, 155–166.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maltzman, I. (1960). On the training of originality. Psychological Review, 67, 229–242.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mook, D. M., Jeffrey, J., & Neuringer, A. (1993). Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats (SHR) readily learn to vary but not repeat instrumental responses. Behavioral and Neural Biology, 59, 126–135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moxley, R. A. (1997). Skinner: from determinism to random variation. Behavior and Philosophy, 25, 3–27.Google Scholar
  27. Nelson, T. D. (1978). Fixed-interval matching-to-sample: Intermatching time and intermatching error runs. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 29, 105–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nevin, J. A. (1967). Effects of reinforcement scheduling on simultaneous discrimination performance. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 10, 251–260.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Neuringer, A. (1986). Can people behave “randomly”?: The role of feedback. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115, 62–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Neuringer, A. (1991). Operant variability and repetition as functions of interresponse time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 17, 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Neuringer, A. (1992). Choosing to vary and repeat. Psychological Science, 3, 246–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Neuringer, A. (2002). Operant Variability: Evidence, functions, and theory. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9, 672–675.Google Scholar
  33. Neuringer, A., Kornell, N., & Olufs, M. (2001). Stability and variability in extinction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior processes, 27, 79–94.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Notterman, J. M., & Mintz, D. E. (1965). Dynamics of response. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  35. Page, S., & Neuringer, A. (1985). Variability is an operant. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 11, 429–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Porac, J. F., & Salancik, G. R. (1981). Generic overjustification: The interaction of extrinsic rewards. Organization Behavior and Human Performance, 27, 197–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pryor, K. W., Haag, R., & O’Reilly, J. (1969). The creative porpoise: Training for novel behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 12, 653–661.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schwartz, B. (1982). Reinforcement-induced stereotypy: How not to teach people to discover rules Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 111, 23–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  40. Skinner, B. F. (1961). The generic nature of the concepts of stimulus and response. In B. F. Skinner, Cumulative Record (pp. 347–366). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts (Reprinted from Journal of General Psychology, 12, 40–65, 1935 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Skinner, B. F. (1968). The Technology of Teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  42. Skinner, B. F. (1976). About behaviorism. NY: Random House.Google Scholar
  43. Skinner, B. F. (1980). Notebooks. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  44. Skinner, B. F. (1983). A Matter of Consequences. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  45. Skinner, B. F., & Vaughan, M. E. (1983). Enjoy Old Age: A Program of Self-Management. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  46. Staddon, J. E. R. (1983). Adaptive Behavior and Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Stokes, P. D. (in press). Creativity and operant research: Selection and reorganization of responses. In M. A. Runco (Ed.) Handbook of creativity research. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  48. Stokes, P. D. (2001). Variability, constraints, and creativity. American Psychologist, 56, 355–359.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wagenaar, W. A. (1972). Generation of random sequences by human subjects: A critical survey of literature. Psychological Bulletin, 77, 65–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Weiss, R. L. (1964). On producing random responses. Psychological Reports, 14, 931–941.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Williams, B. W. (1980). Reinforcement, behavior constraint, and the overjustification effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 599–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allen Neuringer
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentReed CollegePortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations