Fleith, D. S. (2002). Creativity in the Brazilian culture. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 5, Chapter 3), Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA.

This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."



Denise de Souza Fleith
Universidade de Brazilia


Recent trends in creativity research have pointed out that creativity is a sociocultural phenomenon. As a consequence, the effect of cultural factors on the manifestation of creativity has been discussed worldwide. The purpose of this chapter is, therefore, to analyze the development of creativity in the Brazilian culture. A brief description of the Brazilian culture is provided. Models of creativity developed by Brazilian researchers, as well as a review of creativity studies conducted in the educational and workplace environment, are presented. Guidelines for future cross-cultural studies on creativity are also suggested.


An increasing interest in the study of creativity across cultures can be noticed (Raina,1993; Stein, 1999). Recent trends in creativity studies have pointed out that creativity is a sociocultural phenomenon (Amabile, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Simonton, 1994). In this regard, the cultural environment has a strong influence on creativity by suporting or inhibiting the development of creative efforts. Therefore, it is important to investigate the ways in which cultural groups are taught to be creative, how culture changes within and across generations (Hunsaker & Frasier, 1999), what norms are used in one culture to assess creativity, and how culture channels creativity toward certain domains and groups (Lubart, 1999). Moreover, Raina highlights the need for understanding how creativity may foster the cultural change process. Although much of the research on creativity has been conducted in the United States, several studies have also been implemented in different countries, including Brazil.

Brazilian concern for studying creativity dates from 1970. From 1970 throughout 1990, most of the studies focused on ways of fostering creative abilities in the classroom (Alencar, 1975; Alencar, Fleith, Shimabukuro, & Nobre, 1987). On the other hand, in the last decade, it can be noticed that the focus of creativity research has switched from enhancing student's creativity to identifying factors that stimulate or inhibit creative talents in the educational setting (Alencar, 1995; Alencar, Fleith, & Virgolim, 1995; Alencar, Fleith, & Martinez, 2001), as well as factors associated with high creative achievement (Alencar, 1997a; Alencar, Neves-Pereira, Ribeiro & Brandão, 1998). In addition, instruments for assessing the level of a person's creativity and the climate for creativity have been developed (Alencar, 1999; Wechsler, 2001). Most of the Brazilian research on creativity has been conducted in the educational context. Few studies were implemented regarding the workplace setting (Alencar & Bruno-Faria, 1997).

This chapter examines the development of creativity in the Brazilian culture. The first section includes a brief description of the Brazilian culture, and the second section presents two models of creativity developed by Brazilian researchers. The third section reviews studies conducted in the educational environment and discusses their implications. The final section provides guidelines for future cross-cultural studies on creativity.

Brazilian Culture

Brazil is the largest and only Portuguese speaking country in South America. It was colonized by Portugal from 1500 until 1822 when the country became independent. In this regard, Brazilian people have commonly and erroneously been considered Hispanic. The Brazilian nation is composed of European immigrants, African slaves and descendants, and Natives. It is not, therefore, a homogeneous culture. The Brazilian culture is also marked by a strong influence of the Catholic church, which has been present since the beginning of the Portuguese colonization. Nowadays, nearly 88% of the inhabitants are Catholic. According to Torres and Dessen (2002), Brazilians emphasized conformity and adaptation to social rules, and social hierarchy is accepted. Brazilian people are also characterized by their focus on the collective. Moreover, Torres and Dessen stated that:

The fact that Brazilians see themselves as members of an in-group, that they accept inequality and differences in status (i.e., social hierarchy), and that they have high income stratification (i.e., ratio of the high and low income), indicates that Brazil as a whole would have a preference for a vertical-collectivist cultural pattern (p. 8).

Beyond the fact that Brazilian people are group-oriented, they are also able to demonstrate their emotions and can be considered extroverted (Fleith, 1999). With respect to the Brazilian family, it can be described as supportive, protective, and responsible for the maintenance of relationship links. As a consequece, children's independence is not a characteristic encouraged by the culture. Also, as the participation of women in the workforce increases, the distribution of domestic tasks between wife and husband are reviewed, leading the husband to perform tasks that were considered traditionally feminine. In addition, especially in the case of low income families, the influence of family members beyond the nuclear unit, such as the grandmother, on educational practices and values adopted by the family is noticed (Dessen & Braz, 2000).

Brazilian Models of Creativity

Creativity has been a topic of interest among Brazilian researchers for almost 30 years. Also, the influence of American creativity studies on Brazilian research is unquestionable. Although the analysis of creativity has indicated dimensions across cultures, there are behaviors and procedures that are context dependent (Lubart, 1999; Wechsler, 2001). In this regard, Brazilian researchers have developed creativity models based on characteristics of the culture and results of studies conducted in Brazil.

Alencar (1997b), for example, highlighted the importance of intrapersonal and interpersonal factors associated with creativity. Her model of creativity is depicted as a pentagon which encompasses five factors: thinking abilities, personality traits, knowledge and techniques, barriers, and psychological climate. With respect to cognitive abilities, the author mentions divergent thinking abilities such as fluency, flexibility, originality, elaboration, and problem sensitivity. Alencar (1997a, 1997b) emphasized the need for nurturing personality traits associated with creativity such as intrinsic motivation, curiosity, persistence, self-confidence, and tolerance for ambiguity. Also, this author highlighted the relevance of knowledge and creative tecnhique acquisition. In order to create, it is necessary that the individual develops domain-relevant skills and creativity-relevant skills.

According to Starko (1995), "creative contributions do not spring forth in a vacuum; they are built on the knowledge and efforts of those who have gone before" (p. 114). The fourth ingredient of this model is the reduction of barriers to creativity. The implementation of strategies at school and in the workplace to help people overcome emotional, social, and cultural barriers is essential. The last ingredient calls attention to the need for a nourishing psychological climate that reflects strong values of support for creative expression, such as incentive for new ideas, implementation of activities that constitute a permanent invitation to creative actions, validation of original ideas, and high expectation regarding people's creative potential.

Likewise, Novaes (2001) developed the Creative Relationship Mediator Model. Three elements are essential in this model: cognition, language, and action. Cognition, which involves processes of intuition, perception, and definition, identifies and interprets the reality. Language involves the expression and communication of messages, as well as structuring and configuring information drawn from one's reality. The third element, action, includes intention, option, and decision-making. The person rebuilds and transforms the reality, generating a creative product. According to the author of this model, educational practices should encourage innovation, spontaneity, language enrichment, coherence of educational activities, and tolerance for mistakes. The teacher who acts as a creativity mediator can be characterized by his/her openness to new experiences, adaptative flexibility, self-acceptance and acceptance to his/her students, advanced communication skills, and availability to students.

It is interesting to notice that both Brazilian models of creativity are similar to others described in the American literature (e.g., Amabile, 1996; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). As expected, the definition of creativity in the Brazilian culture is based on the "western" definition, i.e., creativity as a product-oriented and originality-based phenomenon (Lubart, 1999). Moreover, although creativity is viewed as a positive construct in the Brazilian culture, the researchers have pointed out barriers to the development of creativity. Most of these barriers are consequences of cultural values and traditions disseminated among Brazilian people such as resistance to new ideas, necessity of being practical all the time, consideration of fantasy as a waste of time, fear of taking risks, and passivity.

Brazilian Studies on Creativity

This section presents a brief review of Brazilian studies on creativity. First, research that focused on the creative process is discussed. Second, studies regarding stimulating and inhibiting factors to the development of creativity are reviewed. Third, research related to effects of creativity training programs is presented. Finally, results of cross-cultural studies are provided.

Creative Process

Alencar (1997a) conducted a study to investigate work habits, professional choices, and creative processes among Brazilian researchers known for outstanding achievement. Data obtained through interviews indicated an intense commitment and dedication to professional activities. Moreover, they suggested factors that contribute to creative ideas such as being a good observer, being updated on this area of expertise, and interacting with colleagues. Family and school influences on professional choices were also noticed. An investigation of the creative processes of well-known Brazilian musicians was implemented by Fleith, Rodrigues, Viana, and Cerqueira (2000). Fourteen musicians participated in semi-structured interviews. The results indicated that the majority of the musicians considered creativity as a complex process supported by many factors, especially the environment. Four stages of the creative process were described by these musicians: process triggering, preparation, product elaboration, and product validation.

The findings of these studies suggested that the creative processes in sciences and arts are not divergent. In addition, the creative process of Brazilian experts does not differ greatly from the creative processes described in the American literature (Amabile, 1996). It is interesting to notice that cross-cultural differences were not found in those studies.

Stimulant and Inhibiting Factors to the Development of Creativity

Most of the Brazilian research regarding stimulating and inhibiting factors to creativity was conducted in the educational context, especially at the university level. Alencar and Fleith (2002), for example, investigated different types of barriers to the expression of personal creativity among 544 elementary to higher education teachers. The Personal Creativity Barriers Inventory, designed and validated by the first author, was used to collect the data. It included items related to four types of barriers: Inhibition/Shyness, Lack of Time/Opportunity, Social Repression, and Lack of Motivation. Significant differences were found between male and female teachers in Social Repression, and among teachers from different grade levels in Inhibition/Shyness and Social Repression. The results pointed out different barriers that refer directly or indirectly to the motives, means, and opportunities for personal creativity expression, thereby suggesting the necessity of strategies that increase the possibilities of teachers' creative expression.

Likewise, Alencar (1995) studied the degree to which different aspects related to creativity have been fostered by university professors, as well as university students' evaluation of their own level of creativity, their professors' level, and their peers' level of creativity. Four hundred and twenty eight university students answered the same inventory mentioned earlier. The results called the attention to the low degree of incentive for different aspects of creativity among university professors. Students judged themselves and their peers as significantly more creative than their professors. In another study conducted by Alencar, Fleith, and Virgolim (1995), the fear of making mistakes, the attachment to rules and values, lack of self-confidence, fear of taking risks, and criticisms of new ideas were the most frequently sited obstacles to the expression of the creative potential among university students and professionals from the field of education.

With respect to stimulants and blocks to creativity in the workplace, Alencar and Bruno-Faria (1997) investigated the characteristics of Brazilian organizations which affect creativity. Among the most frequently mentioned factors that stimulate creativity were organizational support (e.g., recognition), organizational structure (e.g., flexible norms), and support from the boss and peers. On the other hand, some of the most prevalent obstacles to creativity were organizational structure (e.g., rigid, bureaucratic, excess of hierarchy, and centralized power) , boss characteristics (e.g., no acceptance of new ideas), personal relationships (e.g., lack of dialogue, conflict), and organizational culture (e.g., no acceptance of new ideas, no support for risk taking, and cultivation of the fear of making mistakes).

Effects of Creativity Training Programs

Most of the studies regarding the effects of creativity training programs were conducted in Brazil from 1985 to 1995. These studies investigated the effects of creativity programs on teachers and students from distinct grade levels. However, it can be noticed that the participants in the majority of studies were elementary school teachers and students. A few studies examined the impact of creativity programs on gifted and learning disabled students. Moreover, the studies investigated the effects of creativity training programs on cognitive and academic variables such as divergent thinking abilities and school achievement, as well as affective variables such as self-concept, interests, and personality characteristics associated with creativity. The results suggested a positive impact of creativity programs on creative thinking abilities. However, no significant changes related to affective variables were reported (Fleith, 2002).

It is important to mention that most creativity training programs implemented in Brazilian studies were designed based on the creativity literature. Only a few of the studies adopted creativity training program packages. Moreover, the most used instrument was the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) (Torrance, 1974). However, instrument norms for assessing originality were adapted to the Brazilian culture (Alencar, Fleith, Shimabukuro, & Nobre, 1987). Finally, the vast majority of studies used a quasi-experimental design.

Cross-cultural Studies on Creativity

An effort among Brazilian researchers to implement studies that investigate differences in creativity among cultures has been noticed. Wechsler (1985) compared Brazilian and American elementary school children with respect to verbal and figural creativity. The author used the TTCT to assess children's creativity. Regarding figural creativity, the findings indicated that Brazilian children presented more emotional expressiveness, unusual and internal visualization, and expanded boundaries in their drawings when compared to American children. On the other hand, American children presented more humor and movement in their drawings compared to Brazilian students. With respect to verbal creativity, no differences were observed between Brazilian and American students.

In a recent study, Fleith (1999) investigated the effects of a creativity training program on creative abilities and self-concept in elementary classrooms of monolingual (American students) and bilingual (Brazilian immigrant students). The creativity training program, New Directions in Creativity (Renzulli, 1986), slightly improved the creative abilities of students in the treatment group. However, placement in monolingual or bilingual classrooms was not found to affect students' creative abilities nor self-concept. Moreover, the qualitative analysis suggested that a supportive and encouraging classroom climate in which the creativity training program was implemented was an essential factor in the success of the program. Furthermore, the creativity training program had a positive impact on the self-concept of less academically able students from both monolingual and bilingual classrooms.

Obstacles to the expression of personal creativity were examined among 290 educators from Brazil, Cuba, and Portugal, by Alencar and Martinez (1998). The participants were requested to complete the following sentence: I would be more creative if .... Responses were analyzed through content analysis. While Brazilian and Portuguese educators more frequently indicated internal obstacles, Cuban educators pointed out social barriers. It was noticed that the fear of making mistakes, failure, and criticism were the most mentioned personal obstacles by Brazilian and Portuguese professionals. On the other hand, the most common obstacle mentioned by Cubans was insufficient time for observation, analysis, and reflection.

In a cross-cultural study conducted by Alencar, Fleith, and Martinez (2001), personal obstacles to creativity between 385 Brazilian and 305 Mexican University students were investigated. The Obstacles to Personal Creativity Inventory, designed and validated by the first author, was administered to these students. Significant differences were observed between Brazilian and Mexican students in the cluster of obstacles under the heading of Lack of Motivation. In this regard, Mexican students obtained higher scores compared to Brazilian students. Significant differences were also noticed between male and female students in the cluster of obstacles named Inhibition/Shyness. The mean of female students was higher than male students' mean on this factor. Differences between Mexicans and Brazilians were not found with respect to factors Lack of Time/Opportunity and Social Repression.

The findings of the studies reported earlier suggested that creativity may be fostered or hindered by cultural characteristics such as socialization processes, beliefs, values, and traditions. Moreover, the socioeconomic status and historical roots of a nation can also influence the development of the creative expression.

Future Directions for Cross-cultural Studies on Creativity

Since creativity cannot be understood by isolating individuals from their context, to investigate the creative expression within and across cultures is imperative. In this regard, the following suggestions concerning theoretical and methodological aspects should be considered in future cross-cultural studies of creativity, especially those to be conducted in the Brazilian context: (a) to analyze creativity in a culture with raters or norms from that culture, rather than using norms from one culture to assess creativity in another culture (Lubart, 1999); (b) to find out the psychological meanings and variations present in other cultures, thereby avoiding cultural deficit or deprivation theories (Hunsaker & Frasier, 1999); (c) to use both qualitative and quantitative procedures to collect data to broaden the researcher's perspective on the phenomenon; (d) to study the emergence of creativity in different sub-cultures within the same nation; and (e) to create a world network thereby allowing a wider audience access to research findings. According to Wechsler (2001),

"Although the international research has pointed out the wide range of traits and behaviors of the creative person that can be identified across cultures, there are preferences regarding behavioral and thinking styles in specific populations that can be understood within a historical context." (p. 224)

Therefore, it is important to study and understand the emergence of creativity in different contexts in order to establish conditions that will maximize opportunities for the development of creative talents in several domains around the world. This plea is relevant especially in the case of developing countries like Brazil.

About the Author

Denise de Souza Fleith, Ph.D., is a psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Brasilia in Brazil. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut in gifted and talented education. She is the author of books and articles on creativity and giftedness. Her research interests include creativity, gifted education, instrument development, and teachers training. She is also a delegate of Brazil to the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. E-mail: fleith@unb.br Web page (in Portuguese): www.talentocriativo.hpg.com


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Alencar, E. M. L. S., & Fleith, D. S. (2002). Barreiras à criatividade pessoal entre professores de distintos níveis de ensino [Obstacles to Personal Creativity among Elementary to Higher Education Teachers]. Manuscript submitted for publication.

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Questions for Discussion

1. Are there aspects of creativity that are universal?
2. How can cultural factors influence the development of creativity?
3. What components should be integrated into a creativity model?
4. Is the development of creativity domain dependent?
5. What is the importance of crosscultural studies on creativity?
6. What precautions should a researcher or psychologist take into consideration when assessing a person's level of creativity?

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