Prior research has provided conflicting arguments and evidence about whether people who are outsiders or insiders relative to a knowledge domain are more likely to demonstrate scientific creativity in that particular domain. We propose that the nature of the relationship between creativity and the distance of an individual’s expertise from a knowledge domain depends on his or her cognitive processes of problem solving (i.e., cognitive-search effort and cognitive-search variation). In an analysis of 230 solutions generated in a science contest platform, we found that distance was positively associated with creativity when problem solvers engaged in a focused search (i.e., low cognitive-search variation) and exerted a high level of cognitive effort. People whose expertise was close to a knowledge domain, however, were more likely to demonstrate creativity in that domain when they drew on a wide variety of different knowledge elements for recombination (i.e., high cognitive-search variation) and exerted substantial cognitive effort.

cognition, creativity, domain knowledge, innovation, problem solving, search effort, search variation,
Creative Industries , ERIM Top-Core Articles
Psychological Science
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Acar, O.A, & van den Ende, J.C.M. (2016). Knowledge Distance, Cognitive-Search Processes, and Creativity: The Making of Winning Solutions in Science Contests. Psychological Science, 27(5), 692–699. doi:10.1177/0956797616634665