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Measuring Creativity

Learn how experts are measuring creativity

creativity in business

Rarely do we ever see the terms “measuring” and “creativity” in the same sentence, let alone placed snuggly together causing the reader’s mind to do a double flip over the meaning. Some might even consider “measuring creativity” an oxymoron.

When staring at a colorful abstract painting, dancing, watching a movie, or losing ourselves in a book, our minds do not travel to statistical indices or cold, complex calculations. We simply get lost in the aesthetics of the artwork.

We might, however, question how composers, writers, directors, or painters think in such a way as to produce such original and novel pieces of work. Novelty and originality are, after all, the foundation of almost every definition of creativity.

Yet if examined more closely, we might ask how exactly, and by what standards, do experts and the public rate – or measure – novelty or originality?

For a group of psychologists who study creativity, measuring creativity – or determining how to accurately measure originality and novelty – is precisely their passion. For these researchers, measuring creativity is not hyperbole, nor even an oxymoron; it is science.


The start of creative measures

During World War II, psychologist J.P. Guilford developed tests that selected certain individuals to enter a pilot’s training program. His interests on isolating different types of thinking for different tasks continued after the war as he sought to understand human intelligence and talent.

Guilford’s Test of Divergent Thinking

In 1967, creative psychology pioneer J.P. Guilford developed a test to measure divergent thinking, calling it Guilford’s Alternative Uses Task.

Test takers list as many possible uses for a common object, such as a cup, paperclip, or a newspaper. Scoring is comprised of four components: originality, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration.

  • Originality is based on each response compared to the total amount of responses from a specific group of test takers. Responses that are given by 5% of the group are unusual (1 point), responses that are given by only 1% of the group are unique (2 points).
  • Fluency scores relevant answers.
  • Flexibility is based on the difference of categories.
  • Elaboration is based on the amount of detail given in the response. (i.e. 0= a brick as a bed versus 2= a brick used as a bed for a child’s dolls when the child is playing outside)

His work led him into researching IQ tests, and he soon hypothesized that these tests did not measure creativity – an unpopular belief during the middle of the last century. In fact, for most of the 20th century, psychologists believed that IQ and creativity were linked: a high IQ meant high creativity, and conversely, a lower IQ meant lower creativity.

Guilford proved otherwise. In his psychological model called the “Structure of Intellect,” Guilford used a factor analytic technique to separate creative thinking skills from others. As part of this model, Guilford identified two distinct forms of thinking: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is that associated with creative thoughts, or the ability to access memory to derive unique, multiple, and numerous answers to open-ended questions. Convergent thinking means coming up with “one-right-answer” for each question, commonly associated with IQ tests.

Guilford’s pioneering work led others into the field of trying to identify and measure creative thinking. (see Guilford’s Test of Divergent Thinking.) From the 1960s until today, a proliferation of creativity tests claiming to measure creativity or identify creative individuals have proliferated.

However what many call the “gold standard” is one of the first to be developed, and over the years, perfected. Psychologist E. Paul Torrance built on Guilford’s research, developing the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), tests that attempt to psychometrically measure divergent thinking, and other problem-solving skills. The reliability and validity (see Psychological Assessments) of the TTCT has made Torrance nationally and internationally known, and in the psychological literature he is routinely called the “father of creativity research.”

“Positive features of the TTCT include the wealth of information available on it, the short time needed for administration, and the ease of administration. It has fewer limitations and cautions to apply, and it is more researched and analyzed than any other creativity instrument,” according to the Creativity Research Journal article “Can We Trust Creativity Tests?”

Author Kyung Hee Kim received her PhD in educational psychology from the University of Georgia, Athens (UGA) home to The Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development. Before Torrance’s death, Kim had the opportunity to study with him at UGA.

In the article, Kim stresses that Torrance didn’t design the tests to be the final word on creativity, or as a static measure of an individual’s ability, but as a tool for enhancing and nurturing creativity. (see Nurturing Creativity).

Her research delineates Torrance’s goals for the tests as follows:

  1. To understand the human mind and its functioning and development.
  2. To discover the effective bases for individualizing instruction.
  3. To provide clues for remedial and psychotherapeutic programs.
  4. To evaluate the effects of educational programs, materials, curricula, and teaching procedures.

The educational goals are especially important, Lee states. Because these tests mostly are given today to determine placement into Gifted and Talented programs, they fall short of Torrance’s initial purpose. He saw the tests as a tool for individualizing instruction for all students based on their scores.

“Thus, the purposes of the TTCT are for research and experimentation, for general use, for instructional planning, and for determining possible strengths of students,” Lee writes. (see Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking.)

Torrance’s test and its contributions to the field of psychological research cannot be understated. He began testing students in the late 1950s and 1960s, and his colleagues and students continue his work today. Researchers now have volumes of data on how thousands have scored on open-ended, divergent problems. In total, individuals from across the world speaking more than 50 languages have taken this test.

Additionally, Torrance and now his colleagues and former students have conducted longitudinal, lifelong studies on those who first took the tests in 1950s and 1960s. They have tracked the careers and accomplishments of these first test takers, conducting invaluable follow-up studies.

Several of these studies have shown that those children who scored well on the tests went on to significant creative achievement later in their lives, according to Torrance’s colleague, psychologist Garnet Millar, author of “Testing the Whole Mind-Educating the Whole Child” for Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) Magazine.

“The best tests accurately assess their intended parameters and are applicable to real life. By this measure, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking score exceedingly well. Not only do they identify creative abilities, they have proven to have predictive validity,” Millar writes.

Other types of creativity tests

While Torrance worked until his death in 2003 on perfecting the TTCT, other psychology researchers took an interest in designing and developing tests and scales to identify, rate, and predict creativity.

Self-assessment tests. These tests fall within the category of personality tests of creativity, and many of these tests involve self assessments or self reporting of creativity. Individuals respond to questions about how creative they feel, or whether they possess certain creative traits or attributes.

Torrance along with colleague Joe Khatena developed a self-assessment test called the Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory (KTCPI). It is comprised of the following two subtests:

  • Something About Myself (SAM) - measuring artistic inclination, intelligence, individuality, sensitivity, initiative, and self strength.
  • What Kind of Person Are You (WKOPAY)? - measuring imagination, appeal to authority, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, and awareness of others.

Another self-assessment test is called the NEO, developed by Paul T. Costa, Jr. and Robert R. McCrae for use with adult men and women. It consists of 240 questions about the following five traits: neuroticism, extroversion/introversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Psychologists using the test to measure creativity focus on the “openness to experience” trait.

Artistic assessment tests. Artistic assessments are the assessments of an artistic product, such as a short story, a collage, drawing, a dance, sculpture, building design, or musical composition. Individuals who are considered experts rate and judge the products.

This type of assessment is considered “domain-specific,” meaning that creativity is not considered a general skill of creative thinking across multiple subjects or areas, but specific to a discipline or domain. (see Domain-Specific Creativity).

A test developed by Harvard psychology researcher Theresa Amabile called the Consensual Assessment Technique (CAT) attempts to measure and assess domain-specific creativity.

Similar to the way experts rate movies and award Academy Awards, or literature experts award the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, or the Nobel Prize goes to eminent individuals in a number of disciplines, the CAT asks experts to rate creative products in comparison to one another.

In the chapter Is Creativity Domain Specific? in the “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity” creativity researcher John Baer writes the following about CAT:

  • It is based on real performances or artifacts, so the experts base their assessments on the actual creativity of those products not on some basis of things believed in some way to be creative; and
  • It uses the same method for assessing creativity as is used in most domains in the “real world.”

Baer credits these tests as being highly reliable, especially since they don’t follow any specific psychological “model.”

And the use of experts, such as critics, art historians, journal editors, gallery owners, professors, and publishers, are the same individuals who serve as the real world’s gatekeepers. In other words, the CAT comes as close as possible to simulating how creative eminence is awarded in the actual cultural milieu of the world today.

Studying ways to measure creativity

Of course, other psychology researchers have developed many other tests to measure creativity, but they all generally fall within the discussed categories: divergent thinking tests, self-assessments, and artistic assessments.

What most agree on, regardless of method of assessment or testing, is the complex nature of this topic, and the need for more individuals interested in pursuing this area of study and research.

Studying creativity occurs across many psychological fields, including social, personality, cognitive, clinical, biological, differential, developmental, and educational psychology.

If you desire to study creativity within the context of psychological thought and testing, contact schools offering degrees in these psychological fields.

Torrance’s Tests of Creative Thinking*

Psychologist E. Paul Torrance built on the work of J.P. Guilford in designing his Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking TTCT. His scoring of answers included the four factors developed by Guilford – originality, fluency, flexibility, elaboration – plus two additional factors: abstractness of titles and resistance to premature closure.

The TTCT has two parts:

TTCT-Verbal. This part consists of five tasks: ask-and-guess, product improvement, unusual uses, unusual questions, and just suppose.

For example, participants are shown a picture and asked to respond in writing. They might be shown a situation and allowed to ask questions, or asked to improve products, or simply respond to the prompt “just suppose”.

TTCT-Figural. This part consists of three tasks: picture construction, picture completion, and repeated figures of lines or circles.

In picture construction, participants are given a pear or jellybean shape and they must make a picture out of the shape.

In the picture completion task and the repeated figures task, participants are given 10 incomplete pictures or figures in which they must construct an image or picture.

Drawing skills or abilities are not important. Instead, psychologists rate the pictures on the six factors listed above. The abstractness of titles, for example, seeks to measure abstract thought by rating how far the title of images move away from concrete labeling. And resistance to premature closure seeks to measure open-minded thinking.

A psychologist administers the test, which takes 90 minutes. The final score is called a creativity quotient, or CQ. While IQs score reflect the recall of facts (or finding the one right answer to each question) CQ scores reflect the ability to come up with innovative, original, and novel thoughts, ideas, and images.

Proponents of both tests say that having both IQ and CQ scores for all students and adults helps educators, vocational counselors, and clinical psychologists develop comprehensive profiles for all abilities, and all talent levels.

* Information taken from Creativity Research Journal article “Can We Trust Creativity Tests?“ by Kyung Hee Kim.

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