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Creativity measures

Dr. Simon Moss


Recent research indicates that many factors affect creativity. For example, focussing on future aspirations, rather than immediate duties, improves the creativity of individuals. In addition, reflections about romantic evenings can also enhance creativity.

To uncover these findings, researchers need to measure the creativity of individuals. A variety of measures and protocols have been developed to assess creativity.

Brainstorming activities

Perhaps the most common measure of creativity involves brainstorming, in which individuals must uncover as many possible answers to a question as possible. The question might be "Specify many possibe uses of a brick" (e.g., Forster, Friedman, Butterbach, & Sassenberg, 2005)--or other common objects such as a paper clip, pen, pillow, or shoe box (Chamorro-Premuzic & Reichenbacher, 2008). This measure is usually called the Alternate Uses Test (Christensen, Guilford, Merrifield, & Wilson, 1960).

Other questions include "Specify many tactics that could be used to improve this organization" (e.g., Ruys & Stapel, 2008). Usually, a limited time, such as eight minutes, is available to participants.

These activities can also be used to assess other inclinations in addition to creativity, such as aggressive behavior. In a study conducted by Porath and Erez (2009), for example, when asked to specify other uses of a brick, participants who had earlier witnessed rude behavior generated hostile answers like "hitting someone in the head".

Evaluation of creative performance.

To assess the creativity of responses, researchers compute a series of indices. These indices usually assess the fluency, originality, and flexibility of responses (Guilford, 1967 & Torrance, 1966). Other indices, such as measures that gauge whether responses are appropriate or detailed, are also sometimes included (Chamorro-Premuzic & Reichenbacher, 2008).

Fluency refers to the number of unique responses to some question. Usually, for each participant, two or more researchers count the number of answers, exclusing responses that are virtually equivalent to a previous suggestion that person proposed. Cohen's K or a similar index is also computed to ensure the researchers agree.

Originality refers to the extent to which the responses are novel, infrequent, and unconventional. In some studies, researchers merely rate the originality of each unique response--using a scale that ranges from 1 to 5--and then averages these ratings. for each person (e.g., Ruys & Stapel, 2008). Intraclass correlations, ICC (1) are sometimes computed to ensure the researchers agree (see Cicchetti & Sparrow, 1981). In other studies, the extent to which the responses of each participant departs from the answers of other individuals is computed.

Flexibility refers to the degree to which the responses relate to a diverse range of categories. In some studies, the researchers will classify the responses of all individuals into various categories. Cognitive flexibility merely refers to the number of categories in which the participant generated responses (Nijstad, Stroebe, & Lodewijkx, 2003).

Creative insight tasks

Creative insight tasks are unique on several dimensions. First, in contrast to many other tests, in many creative insight tasks, such as the remotes associate test, only one answer is deemed as correct. Second, in contrast to some other tests, this answer often seems to appear suddenly. In contrast, for many tests of creativity, performance improves gradually over time. For brainstorming tasks, for example, individuals gradually and progressively accumulate more solutions and ideas.

The Duncker candle problem

To complete the Duncker candle problem, developed by Dunker (1945), individuals are presented with a picture (for an example, see Maddux & Galinsky, 2009) . The picture displays several objects on a table, which appears alongside a cardboard wall: a candle, a box of matches, and a box of tacks. Participants are instructed to decide how to attach the candle to the wall. The candle must be able to burn properly, without dripping onto the table or the floor.

To identify the correct solution, participants must realize the box itself can be used as a candleholder-and thus is considered an insight problem. That is, the tacks should be emptied from the box. The box can then be tacked onto the wall.

To solve this problem, individuals must consider solutions that depart from preexisting associations with the objects (Glucksberg & Weisberg, 1966). Indeed, Maddux and Galinsky (2009) showed that individuals who have lived many years abroad--a determinant of creativity--were more likely to solve this problem effectively.

Gestalt completion task

For the Gestalt completion task (e.g., Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Dermen, 1976 & Friedman & Forster, 2000 & Schooler & Melcher, 1995), a series of fragmented pictures are presented. Each picture actually represents a familar object. The task of participants is merely to guess the object.

Many other insight tests have been developed (see Insight tests).

Imaginative activities

Alien drawing task

To assess creativity, in some studies, individuals are asked to draw something that is not real, such as an alient creature (e.g., Ward, 1994 & see also Galinsky, Magee, Gruenfeld, Whitson, & Liljenquist, 2008 & Kray, Galinsky, & Wong, 2006& Maddux & Galinsky, 2009). That is, participants are asked to imagine they have visted a planet in another galaxy, different from Earth. They are then asked to draw the alien they encountered on this planet.

To assess the creativity of these drawings, several judges are sought. These judges, blind to the experimental hypotheses and conditions, independently evaluate the extent to which they perceive each drawing as creative on a scale, ranging from not creative at all to extremely creative. In addition, these judges evaluate the extent to which the aliens are similar to Earth creatures, sometimes on several scales. Furthermore, the judges evaluate the deree to which the aliens exhibit atypical features, such as the absence of a sensory organ, more sensory organs, such as eyes, than Earth creatures, unconventional locations of these sensory organs, or unusual abilities or functions.

Typically, internal consistency across coders is high, exceeding or approximating .80, for all three indices: overall creativity, similarity to Earth creatures, and atypical features.

Self report tests

Scott and Bruce (1994) constructed a self report measure of creative and innovative behavior at work. The scale comprises six items, such as "I promote and champion ideas to others" and "I search out new technologies, process, techniques, and/or product ideas". Alpha reliability has been shown to equal .92 (Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko, & Roberts, 2008). As anticipated, servant leadership and a promotion focus was associated with creative behavior.


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Cicchetti, D. V., & Sparrow, S. A. (1981). Developing criteria for establishing interrater reliability of specific items: Applications to assessment of adaptive behavior. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 86, 127-137.

Duncker, K. (1945). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs, 58(5, Serial No. 270).

Ekstrom, R. B., French, J. W., Harman, H. H., & Dermen, D. (1976). Manual for kit of factor-referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Forster, J., Friedman, R. S., Butterbach, E. B., & Sassenberg, K. (2005). Automatic effects of deviancy cues on creative cognition. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 345-359.

Friedman, R. S., & Forster, J. (2000). The effects of approach and avoidance motor actions on the elements of creative insight. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 477-492.

Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Gruenfeld, D. H., Whitson, J., & Liljenquist, K. A. (2008). Social power reduces the strength of the situation: Implications for creativity, conformity, and dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1450-1466.

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Guilford, J. P. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kray, L. J., Galinsky, A. D., & Wong, E. (2006). Thinking within the box. The relational processing style elicited by counterfactual mind-sets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 33-48.

Maddux, W. W., & Galinsky, A. D. (2009). Cultural borders and mental barriers: The relationship between living abroad and creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1047-1061.

Neubert, M. J., Kacmar, M., Carlson, D. S., Chonko, L. B., & Roberts, J. A. (2008). Regulatory focus as a mediator of the influence of initiating structure and servant leadership on employee behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1220-1233.

Nijstad, B. A., Stroebe, W., & Lodewijkx, H. F. M. (2003). Production blocking and idea generation: Does blocking interfere with cognitive processes? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39,531-548.

Porath, C. L., & Erez, A. (2009). Overlooked but not untouched: How rudeness reduces onlookers' performance on routine and creative tasks. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processess, 109, 29-44.

Ruys, K. I., & Stapel, D. A. (2008). How to heat up from the cold: examining the preconditions for (unconscious) mood effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 777-791.

Schooler, J. W., & Melcher, J. (1995). The ineffability of insight. In S. M. Smith, T. B. Ward, & R. A. Finke (Eds.), The creative cognition approach (pp. 97-133). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

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Torrance, E. P. (1966). Torrance tests of creativity. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press.

Ward, T. B. (1994). Structured imagination: The role of category structure in exemplar generation. Cognitive Psychology, 27, 1-40.

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Last Update: 5/27/2016