The Roots of Creativity

ADT Research Programme

The three-dimensional aspect of visual cognitive processing

The Arts Dyslexia Trust has had twenty years recorded history of successful mediation in promoting the career and learning opportunities of talented dyslexics, both individually and as a particular section of the population which is in great need of recognition and support. 

Now, more than ever, these people need encouragement.  They include some of the most creative minds in our society.   Unlike other species, the human being’s ability to find answers to new problems without the necessity of rebuilding the individual’s whole biological framework has enabled our race to survive the huge threats to its existence that we have faced throughout our long history. 

Whilst support for the disabled and disadvantaged has been an important feature of policy makers in the field of education and must continue, support for those who, although sharing some learning difficulties with those called disadvantaged, also have gifts and sometimes exceptional talents in particular spheres  -   the young creative minds, has been sadly lacking.   We urgently need these minds if we are to solve the unprecedented threats that now face the human race. 

Here, in the Arts dyslexia Trust, we are passionate about promoting recognition and more understanding of these  talented minds..   We are equally passionate about  trying to end the great suffering of dyslexics and others with similar visual-spatial strengths, that results from lack of recognition of their potential abilities.

To help to meet these challenges is the aim of our research programme. 

We start our investigation by asking:-

Why is it that dyslexics seem to manifest this creative ability more often than other people?  What is it about the dyslexic brain that makes it conducive to creative thinking? 

These are crucial questions to which no satisfactory answer has been given as yet.   Indeed, the whole question of creativity is regarded by many people as a total mystery.  We hope to bring a few hard facts to light and dissipate some of the mystery.

Findings to date lead us to believe that it is the power of vision that fuels the dyslexic’s creative potential.  Hundreds of years ago, this facility was shoved into the background by the discovery and development of language.  The tremendous advantage of being able to convey information across large distances of time and geographical space put the written and spoken word in a position of overwhelming supremacy.

Perhaps it is now time to review that situation.  For one thing, it is becoming apparent that the human brain possesses several forms of intelligence, not just one.   PET scans and other forms of brain recording have begun to confirm Howard Gardner’s theory of “Multiple Intelligences”.   It is clear that we receive information from all our various senses.  Each has developed its own means of processing information and each is useful. 

Of these senses vision is the most important.   As has been famously said “The human being is a visual animal.  No other mammal relies so heavily on vision”.

The problem is that our brain organises information coming to us via our eyes in a fundamentally different way to that which we hear or read.

We learn language to begin with by listening to what is said.  Sounds are organised according to their relationship in time and so speech is therefore one-dimensional.   

Written words can also only be understood when read in one direction.

Visual information, on the other hand, is organised according to its relationship in space.  It is therefore three-dimensional.  We can see an object from many different angles.  This gives us very much more information than can be conveyed by a name or description of that object in words

The consequences of this extra quantity of information which, we believe, plays a major part in a dyslexic’s cognitive processing, can be evidenced in any or all of the following traits:-


1)  Exhaustion due to overload.

2)  Disorientation, confusion as to where one is standing.

3)  Confusion relating to time  -  missed appointments/is there time to get  there?/what date is it?

4)  Not noticing a detail  -  seeing only the wood not every tree.

5)  Losing track of what is spoken or written, losing track of what one is saying oneself.

6)   Divergent thinking, moving off at a tangent to the intended path, often interpreted as lack of concentration” at school  -  misinterpretation of exam questions.

7)  Reaching correct answers to questions but not being able to say how one got there.

8)   Taking longer to read and to sort through possible answers to questions in one’smind, hence     the longer time allowance given to dyslexics in exams.

(In order to avoid confusion it is always important to learn how to prioritise.  Mastery of this skill is particularly important for dyslexics.)


1)  A greater capacity for creativity, aided by the following:

2)  More information means more opportunities to find an answer to a problem.  Ability to see the  balance of shapes colour, tone, texture, and direction, in a pictured scene hence potential skill in the arts and in engineering and sciences such as geology,,medicine, etc.

3)  Ability to see the balance of shapes colour, tone, texture, and direction, in a pictured scene   hence potential skill in the arts and in engineering and sciences such as geology,,medicine, etc.

4) “Wholistic” facility, the ability to see the whole picture and place it in context, seeing the wood not just a path through it or individual trees .

5)  The ability to rearrange the constituents of a package of information, so that it becomes a new configuration.

6)  The ability to make decisions based on the whole picture not only on the received wisdom.

7)  The ability to perceive gaps or misdirection in that received wisdom  -  to extend existing knowledge by adding to already recorded information.

8)  A tendency to accept uncertainty, toleration of other peoples’ ideas, awareness of change, multiple viewpoints and the possibility that one’s own ideas may be wrong.

Individual examples are provided in evidence for all the above factors.

From the above lists it is easy to realise that it is likely that there are more dyslexics in those spheres which require creative thinking than in others. Indeed, many of the most creative minds in our whole history have shown evidence of dyslexia, e.g.. Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Benoit Mandlebrot,  perhaps even Socrates.

One may also assume that students with a visual-spatial mindset are likely to be less popular with the powers that be in school.


Existing so-called “visual” tests are not very effective because they are usually designed by audio-sequential thinkers.  It is not possible to reach a position of authority in the  academic world without having mastered an adequate standard of literacy. There is no equivalent necessity for academics to possess visual-spacial ability.

This bias leads to the construction of tests which need answers in words or numbers only.  For example: What is missing from this picture (of a door) ?  “correct” answer “a handle;”;  although a mass of other visual information is missing from the picture !

Hopefully avoiding such pitfalls, ADT have designed a battery of tests to help identify visual-spatial thinkers in comparison to those who are audio-sequential.  These tests focus on the “wholistic” * aspect of visual thinking as recorded in reports on dyslexics.  Each test has two answers: one wholistic, the other linear/sequential.

For examples of tests see the home page of this website.

Those interviewed are presented with up to 6 images and are asked to provide both answers if possible to each, indicating which is preferred or thought of first.  No more than 5 minutes allowed per image.  (see attached illustrations).

Analysis of the first pilot study will be given soon and the results summarised.


* I keep to the English spelling of the word as it is more truly descriptive than “holistic” which suggests a structure full of holes  -  a completely inappropriate designation..


refs.f short list:

“Frames of Mind; the theory of muliple intelligences”  Howard Gardner, 1983

“In the Mind’s Eye” Thomas West, new edition 2009

“Thinking like Einstein”  Thomas West , 2004

“Visual Thinkers in an age of Computer visualisation” Proceedings of annual conference of Sigraph ‘93

“The Origins of Order” Stuart Kauffman, 1993

“Upside -Down Brilliance”  Linda Silverman, 2003

“Sparks of Genius” Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein, 1999

“Spatial Ability; a handbook for teachers” Pauline Smith & T> Clausen-May 1998 and other publications b  Pauline Smith for NFER

“The Eye; a natural history, Simon Ings 2007

“Vision”  David Marr  1992

“Cerebral Lateralisation; Biological Mechanisms, associations & Pathology” Norman Geshwind & Albert Galaburda, 1987, MIT Press

“Phantoms of the Brain”  by Vilanour Ramachandran,  1999

“Hyperspace” by Michio Kaku, 1994



                                                                                    Susan Parksinson ARCA


                                                                                    for the Arts Dyslexia Trust