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Quiz the Creativity Whiz

Gila Arnold

A well-know writer once said: “Thinking is the enemy of creativity.” Such a quote may cause one to assume that creativity is in a league of its own — not conducive to laws of reason or clear thinking. Yet, researchers have managed to measure levels of creativity in people and assess it as a science. So … do you think you are creative? Find out!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

So you always thought you were the creative type. “I always have the cleverest mishloach manos themes!” you think. “And I write creative stories for a living! And when it’s five minutes ’til the school bus comes and there are no clean socks in the house, you should see the inventive footwear solutions I come up with!”

Well, for those of you who always prided yourselves on your high levels of creativity, you may be interested to know that there are ways to measure creativity scientifically.

Unlike intelligence testing, which has been popular since the early days of the twentieth century, the notion of testing for creativity as a distinct trait wasn’t proposed until the second half of the century. Research (primarily by J.P. Guilford at the University of Southern California) revealed that highly creative people were not necessarily scoring proportionately on IQ tests. The skills being measured were simply different.

A quick search today will reveal various types of creativity tests. (The Center for Creative Learning in Sarasota, Florida, lists and rates seventy-two published tests.) There are also many additional quick self-tests, but — and here’s a warning — while their reliability may not be proven, they can be quite addictive. (As at least one person knows!)

So what are these tests, exactly? If you’re picturing a test-taker sitting in a meditative state and feeling the flow of his creative juices, you’re not far off. Well, not too far.

First, some background: The earliest creativity test was published by Ellis Paul Torrance in 1962, based on Guilford’s theory of creativity and Torrance’s own studies of schoolchildren. The Torrance test is still considered the gold standard in creativity testing, and most creativity tests today are based on it.

What is the theory of creativity? Well, you may match a pink sequined beret with an orange plaid scarf and call yourself “artsy,” but it doesn’t prove anything in terms of technically measured creativity. According to research, creativity is made up of certain consistent traits, and the early researchers sought to analyze what those core components were. According to the theory of creativity, the crux of creative thinking lies in two seemingly opposite skills: the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem, called divergent thinking, and the ability to narrow all options into a single solution, or convergent thinking. It is primarily these two skills that a creativity test will seek to assess.

Let’s give a real life example. My son comes home from school and several hours later he’s outside playing ball on the porch. As a responsible mother, I ask him what he thinks he should be doing now. He quickly rattles off seven different options: continue playing ball on the porch, play ball in the parking lot, eat a snack, bother his brother, listen to a CD, experiment with his aim by throwing water balloons off a fourth-story porch, and finally, go to the corner store and buy some candy.

My creative son has just engaged in divergent thinking. In fact, he gets points for fluency (the number of alternatives he was able to think of in a short amount of time), flexibility (how wide a variety of solutions he came up with — here, two had to do with playing ball and two with eating snacks, so he would get a score of five), originality (how different his ideas were from those that most people, such as his mother, would think of) and elaboration (the amount of detail he included in his response — he specified where he would buy the candy, but not how he would get the money).

If subsequently, upon seeing the look on my face, my son evaluates all the previously generated options and hones in on the appropriate solution — to do his homework — he has just engaged in convergent thinking.

Armed with this knowledge, you are now ready to try your hand at a creativity test. Breathe deeply and get those divergent and convergent neurons sparking.


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