me in Lynne Valley 2015 Liane Gabora

Associate Professor

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus), CANADA


Phone: (250) 807-9849
Email: liane[dot]gabora[at]ubc[dot]ca

 Welcome to my homepage!


Liane Gabora is an Associate Professor of Psychology and creativity studies at the University of British Columbia. Her research, which employs both experimental studies with humans and computational models, has focused on creativity and how creative minds evolve over time as people adapt ideas to their own needs and tastes and put their own spin on them. In recent years her emphasis has been shifting to the exploration of physical light as a metaphor for inner light (creative spark, ray of hope, light of my life…) using multidisciplinary methods that include fiction and interactive technologies. She has over 150 scholarly publications in a diverse range of journals including Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, Topics in Cognitive Science, World Archaeology, Journal of Theoretical Biology, and Foundations of Physics, as well as book chapters, conference proceedings papers, and encyclopedia articles. She has obtained over one million dollars in research grants, and has given lectures worldwide. She is also a published fiction writer, co-owns a small mobile app company, and composes piano music. Current projects include a nonfiction book titled Dawn of the Creative Mind and a novel titled Quilandria.


(For details see the Studies of Creative and Evolutionary Processes (SCEP) Research Page.)

General Areas

Specific Questions

  • Evolution of human cognition
  • Creativity
  • Comparative study of evolutionary processes: biological and cultural
  • Physical light as metaphor for inner light
  • Under what conditions can something evolve? In what sense does culture evolve?
  • How did the human mind become capable of evolving culture? How did it become so creative?
  • How does the creative process work?
  • How can we use the metaphor between physical light and inner light to visualize, and thereby better understand, the complex and sometimes illusive aspects of the human psyche?

The overarching goal of my research has been to develop a coherent theory of the process by which culture evolves. I aim to bring forward a theoretical framework for cultural evolution that is as sound as our theoretical framework for biological evolution, and apply it to the tasks of reconstructing our past, exploring possible futures, and furthering human wellbeing. A major component of this interdisciplinary enterprise involves explicating the mechanisms underlying creativity and how the complexity and creativity of the human mind came about. The methods used by my students and I to gain insight into cultural evolution and the creative process include mathematical and computational modelling, as well as human experiments.

My fascination with physical light as a metaphor for cognition and the human psyche dates back to a Grade 11 Physics class in which the teacher (Mr. Webb) explained the processes of reflection and refraction. Ever since that day the topic has been my greatest passion but I did not see a life path in which it could be pursued. After decades of developing ideas on it as a hobby and reading everything I could find on physical light, 'spiritual light', extended metaphors, and so forth, my research program has gradually shifted to encompass this lifelong interest.

Current, past and upcoming research projects are outlined in more detail here.


This research is funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Concerted Research Program of the Flemish Government of Belgium in conjunction with the Free University of Brussels. Previous funding comes from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Foundation for the Future, and The University of British Columbia.


I was awarded the 2011 Berlyne Award for outstanding research by a junior scholar from the American Psychological Association, Division 10.

Curriculum Vitae

Intellectual Lineage

Here is something cool. This website shows the 'intellectual genealogy' of each person who has earned a PhD in mathematics or a related discipline, showing who their doctoral advisor was, and his/her doctoral advisor, and so forth. My intellectual lineage includes Bohr, de Broglie, Poincare, Poisson, Euler, Newton, and Galileo! (Some of these people had two co-advisors so there are multiple branches. If you don't get to these people from one branch try another. From Aerts more interesting to go to Reignier rather than Piron (although there are some famous scientists on that branch too). There are a few more co-advisors branches after that, but interestingly, not all the famous people are in the same branch.)



Courses Taught

Current Graduate Students

Future Graduate Students

Check out this GRADUATE STUDENT FELLOWSHIP opportunity!

I am eager to work with graduate and undergraduate students. If you are an A student and would like to work on one of the above topics in a fun, interdisciplinary environment, with money for summer research and conference travel, drop me a line. To ensure that I have sufficient time for students, I only accept one honours student per academic year and one directed study student per semester. I will consider taking additional undergraduate projects if they are co-supervised by one of my advanced graduate students or by another faculty member.


Representative Publications

Complete List of Publications (most with URLs)

Journal Articles

Book Chapters

Papers in Conference Proceedings

Complete List of Publications (most with URLs)