Creativity and cognition interact to allow an individual to use information in new and different ways. They are connected in that creative thought processes allow the thinker to focus on different elements in a situation and to combine those features into something that is unique. Cognition requires the thinker to become aware of stimulation and then to process and organize what he has noticed. The more individualized and unusual the outcome, the more creative the person is said to be.
Determining what to focus on represents a primary task of cognition. Creative people tend to focus on more things and to pay attention to unique or different features of them. The primary cognitive task is to filter information so that the individual can react appropriately to the situation. A creative person's filter is often wider, allowing more information to be processed, and the selection criteria for attention is frequently based on something other than pragmatism. For example, a pragmatist might focus on the ingredients in a restaurant dish, but a creative person might focus on the overall presentation and the effect that it has on the patrons.
Research into the processes underlying both creativity and cognition frequently focuses on perception. Highly creative people seem to perceive things differently, especially in their specific fields. Artists perceive angles and colors that others often miss, and musicians focus on sounds that others discount. Cognitive tests of creative people suggest that creative brains are wired to focus on unique elements that result in the individualized perspectives often associated with creativity.
Beyond perceiving more and different details, creative people often form unusual associations between things and ideas. The cognitive process behind this lies in the formation of neural association pathways that allow a person to quickly connect thoughts and ideas. Creative brains might feature more association pathways or unusually wired ones, compared with more pragmatic brains. Abstract ideas might be described in terms of colors by an artist, or a writer might be able to think of a dozen different words for a simple idea. As the brain develops, creativity and cognition work together to help the individual form his or her own ideas about the world and how things work.
Additional information and unique perspectives often result in creative solutions to problems. Cognition is frequently consumed by problem-solving tasks. The brain recognizes that a situation needs to be addressed, assesses the available information, collects additional information as needed and synthesizes it into a proposed solution. Thinking creatively about those problems means collecting more or different data and/or connecting in unusual ways to existing strategies. Well-blended creativity and cognition often result in new inventions, ideas or approaches to solving problems.