The question of domain generality or specificity is ultimately one of transfer. Whenever something previously learned in one context is applied successfully in a different context, transfer has occurred.
The difference in the contexts may be relatively large or relatively small, with transfer much more likely the more similar the situations (Woolfolk, 2010). Distinctions have been made between “low-road trans- fer” (“the spontaneous, automatic transfer of highly practiced skills, with little need for reflective thinking”; Salomon & Perkins, 1989, p. 118) and the much more difficult “high-road transfer” (which involves consciously applying knowledge or skill learned in a different context).
… most transfer occurs within contexts that are quite similar. Research has suggested that transfer across domains is both difficult to achieve and relatively rare (Willingham, 2002, 2007).
The theory that creativity is domain-general therefore predicts positive correlations among the levels of creativity exhibited by individuals in different domains. Domain specificity predicts the opposite.
Baer (1996) showed that when creativity training is targeted at improving divergent thinking skills in a particular domain (or even a particular sub-domain), it is creativity in that area alone that shows an increase in subsequent testing. Creativity ratings on tasks in other domains or subdomains were not affected by domain-specific creativity training.
The goal of most creativity trainers and teachers is to boost creative thinking skills in many areas, not just in a single domain.
If creativity is domain-specific, as I have argued, then creativity assessment must also be domain-specific. If no domain-general creativity-relevant skills or other attri- butes exist, then there are no domain-general creativity-relevant skills or other attri- butes to measure. One could assess domain-specific skills that might contribute to creative performance in one (or some) domain(s), but any measure of creativity would need to state for what domains it claims to be a valid measure.
Creativity assessment has often assumed domain generality. By far, the most common tests of creativity have been divergent thinking tests, and the most widely used divergent thinking tests are the torrance tests of creative thinking (TTCT), which come in two forms, figural and verbal, although both are used as general measures of creativity (Kaufman, Plucker et al., 2008b; Torrance & Presbury, 1984).
… Torrance himself offered showing that figural and verbal divergent thinking scores are not correlated, and are therefore measuring two essentially unrelated sets of skills.
Both the verbal and the figural tests are commonly used, both by researchers and by school systems, as general measures of creative potential. But they are almost completely orthogonal measures—they can’t both be measuring the same thing if they yield totally different and uncorrelated scores—so they cannot be measures of domain- general creativity. They can, at most, be measures of creativity in their respective domains.
Domain specificity suggests that we will need many theories of creativity, not a single grand unifying theory.
The kinds and degrees of expertise likely to promote creativity in a domain will vary greatly across domains. The same is true of all of the general ideas commonly proposed for skills or other attributes important to creativity.
They vary by domain (The theory that creativity is domain-specific is itself a kind of meta-theory. It can help guide the search for specific theories in different domains—mostly by showing the need for such separate theories rather than a grand, domain-general theory—but by itself it does not provide a theory of how creativity works in any given domain.
Domain-specific theories of creativity limit the range of creations and creative processes that are presumed to have some underlying unity.