Creative peaks in an individuals life can seemingly occur at any and at different life stages, according to new research into Nobel Prize winners. While many people are currently worried about where they’re heading throughout their twenties, according to the study, it’s perfectly fine not to create your best work in your twenties and to have your next “creative peak” at a later stage in life. The study, published in the journal De Economist, found that there are two types of innovators; while some peak in their mid-twenties, others actually produce their most groundbreaking work in their mid-fifties.
The study’s lead author, Bruce Weinberg, a professor of economics at The Ohio State University, and co-author David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, looked at 31 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Weinberg stressed, “We believe what we found in this study isn’t limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally.”
Weinberg and Galenson organised the Nobel laureates into “conceptual innovators” and “experimental innovators”; the former “challenge conventional wisdom and tend to come up with new ideas suddenly,” while the latter “accumulate knowledge through their careers and find groundbreaking ways to analyse, interpret and synthesise that information into new ways of understanding.”
The researchers during the study determined that each laureate’s peak based on how many times their research papers were cited, using two different methods to work out how frequently cited they were. Conceptual innovators, they found, typically peaked at either 25 or 29 (depending on which method of determining citations they used), after which they became “immersed in the already accepted theories of the field.” Experimental innovators, however, peaked in either their mid-fifties or at around 57.
“Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you’re talking about,” Weinberg concluded in a press release.
While the study indicated that you may have to wait until your fifties, hypothetically of course, to have your next creative peak, that may not actually mean that you’re best off putting your creative projects on pause until you hit your 50s.
Although, if you’re someone who is in the midst of a creative block, there’s a whole host of ways to address it. According to Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education, for instance, stresses the importance of taking regular breaks, rather than pledging yourself to your desk until you finally produce something you’re satisfied with. Additionally, the study mentions how the environment might be adding to a “block” as well. Researchers made sure to note that your imagination might be inhibited if you spend all your time affixed to your laptop within the same four walls.
All hope isn’t lost though. The implications of the findings aren’t limited to the field of economics, according to Weinberg. The research actually builds upon a previous study that showed that while poets and physicists tend to produce their best work in their 20s, biologists and novelists tend to do so when they reach late middle age. But Weinberg’s new study identified the specific ages at which creativity tends to hit its peak. For the conceptual laureates, it was often either at the age of 25 or 29. For the experimental ones, it wasn’t until they were 57. So, if you’re in your 40s and you still haven’t found that great idea that’ll make you famous, don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time.
If you’re someone who is still stuck in a creative rut, New Yorker, psychologist Maria Konnikova suggested temporarily switching to an alternate, pressure-free creative activity in order to “escape from external and internal judgement.” A novelist, for instance, might document their dreams in a diary, rather than abandoning the pen altogether. It’s a method that sounds easily applicable to creative pursuits other than writing, too.