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How is Creativity Studied?

Updated Jul 10, 2016
Robert Chen

Creativity is a subjective concept, and there is no right or wrong way to measure or "score" one's creativity. Researchers have sought for years to devise a score, some sort of "creativity quotient" analogous to the intelligence quotient (IQ) test for intelligence. However, a standardized scale for creativity has not been adopted in a widespread use. Here we review contemporary strategies to quantify creativity and study this cognitive phenomenon.

On a high level, creativity can be broken up into two broad sub-domains: convergent thinking (linking, or converging, two separate concepts) and divergent thinking (being able to "think outside the box"). There are tests for both.

When evaluating creativity, both creative potential and creative achievement can be measured. Creative potential refers to what an individual is capable of achieving, and is usually measured by various tests for convergent and divergent thinking. Creative achievement refers to what an individual has accomplished with respect to creativity, and is commonly measured with self-report questionnaires.

Tests for creative potential

Tests for divergent thinking:

  • Torrance Test of Creative Thinking1,2

    • The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking is perhaps the most widely adopted test for creative thinking. This test measures creativity from both verbal and non-verbal perspectives. There are a wide variety of small tasks that the subject is instructed to do. Some examples of verbal tasks include:
      • Verbal Tasks:
        • Alternative uses: given the name of an everyday object, the subject is given 2 minutes to come up with as many "alternate" ways to use the object, apart from its intended usage. For example, if the object is a pen, some alternative uses may include: poking holes in paper, bookmark, or as a musical instrument.
        • Riddles:
        • Impossibilities: list out as many scenarios or items that are impossible.
        • Consequences: given several improbable situations, list out their consqeuences
      • Non-verbal Tasks:
        • Incomplete Figure: given a drawing, the subject is instructed to draw over the picture, to create a different drawing.
        • Circle Usage: the subject is instructed to make a drawing using only circles
        • Shape combination: the subject is instructed to combine different shapes (e.g. squares and circles) to create an elaborate drawing
    • More information:
  • Guilford's Alternative Uses Task3

  • Wallach and Kogan Test4

  • The Remote Associates Test (RAT)5

  • Kirton's Adaption Innovation Inventory

  • Goldstein-Sheerer Object-Sorting Test

  • University of Wisconsin Card-Sorting Test

    • This test measures set-shifting ability
  • Adjective Check List

    • this is a comprehensive personality test, with sections pertaining to personality such as the Creative Motivation Inventory, Domino Creativity Scale
  • Test for Creative Thinking - Drawing Production (TCT-DP)

  • Verbal fluency task

Tests for convergent thinking:

Tests for creative achievement

Creative achievement is commonly measured by surveys and questionnaires that an individual fills out. These questionnaires ask pointed questions about the individual's achievements in various areas (e.g. literature, music, etc).

  • Creative Achievement Questionnaire (CAQ)7
    • Performance on this test is highly associated with intelligence8
    • This test has successfully been used for discriminating between more and less creative people9,10,11
    • The CAQ was used to predict IQ threshold for high creativity11
    • One genetic study using this questionnaire: polygenic risk scores predict creativity in psychosis patients
  • Khatena-Torrance Creative Perception Inventory
  • How Do You Think (Davis)
  • Things Done on Your Own (Torrance, 1962)
  • The Creativity Behavior Inventory
  • Runco Ideation Behavior Scale (RIBS)
  • Creative Attitude Survey (Schaeffer)
  • Statement of Past Activities
  • NEO-PI-R (Openness to Experience component)
    • this test is also a commonly used personality test
  • Gough Personality Scale

Lessons learned from neurological and psychiatric patients

Although the physiological and genetic basis for creativity is not well understood, various pieces of evidence indicate that there may be a physiological basis for creativity, that it is not just a natural talent, or gift, ["doled out sparingly by the gods"]12. There have been various case reports of patients with dementia or psychosis who exibit greater creative qualities after onset of the disease.

Link between Creativity and Dementia

Here are a couple of pieces of art produced by patients with dementia. Here's an example of a drawing from an Alzheimer's patient that "lacks visual precision but can show appealing use of color and form". Similarly, here's an example of figurines painted by a patient with frontotemporal dementia that exhibits a creative repeating pattern. Generally, such paintings are ["realistic or surrealistic without a significant symbolic or abstract component"]13.

In frontotemporal dementia, the frontotemporal lobe of the brain undergoes neuronal loss, leading to a variety of deficits including personality changes (behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia), impaired language (primary progressive aphasia), motor disturbances (as a part of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or progressive supranuclear palsy). There have been various documented cases of patients with frontotemporal dementia who exhibit creative potential (potentially due to greater activation of cortical networks that contribute to creativity).

Link between Creativity and Pyschosis

It's been proposed that there is a link between psychosis and creativity. Studies have found that some schizophrenic or manic patients may exhibit [more creative qualities in their writing]14.

A study in 2011 on 300,000 people found that there was a higher likelihood for people with schizophrenia and bipoloar disorder to be in creative professions, compared to controls.

Link between Creativity and Personality Disorders

In a study of 117 individuals, [those with schizotypal traits (measured by the Abberation Scale or the Magical Ideation Scale) scored higher on the Domino Creativity Scale of the Adjective Check List]15.

Paradoxical Functional Facilitation

A phenomenon known as [pradoxical functional facilitation]16illustrates the augmentation of brain functions in other areas of the brain after one area is damaged. This may involve bringing up a subnormal level of functioning up to a normal level, or augmenting the level of functioning to an above-normal level. It is possible that this effect plays a role in modulation of creativity in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions including dementia and psychosis.

  1. Torrance, E. P. (1968). Torrance tests of creative thinking. Personnel Press, Incorporated.

  2. Torrance E.P. Personnel Press; Princeton: 1966. Torrance tests of creative thinking: Directions manual and scoring.

  3. Wilson, R. C., Guilford, J. P., & Christensen, P. R. (1953). The measurement of individual differences in originality. Psychol Bull, 50(5), 362-370.

  4. Wallach M.A., Kogan N. Holt, Rinehart and Winston; New York: 1965. Modes of thinking in young children: A study of the creativity-intelligence distinction.

  5. Mednick, S. A., & Mednick, M. T. (1967). Examiner's manual, Remote Associates Test. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

  6. Dow, G. T., & Mayer, R. E. (2004). Teaching students to solve insight problems: Evidence for domain specificity in creativity training. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 389_402.

  7. Carson S.H., Peterson J.B., Higgins D.M. Reliability, validity, and factor structure of the creative achievement questionnaire. Creativity Research Journal. 2005;17:37_50.

  8. Carson, S. H., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2003). Decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high-functioning individuals. J Pers Soc Psychol, 85(3), 499-506. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.3.499

  9. Vellante, M., Zucca, G., Preti, A., Sisti, D., Rocchi, M. B., Akiskal, K. K., & Akiskal, H. S. (2011). Creativity and affective temperaments in non-clinical professional artists: an empirical psychometric investigation. J Affect Disord, 135(1-3), 28-36. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.06.062

  10. Silvia P.J., Wigert B., Reiter-Palmon R., Kaufman J.C. Assessing creativity with self-report scales: A review and empirical evaluation. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. 2012;6:19_34.

  11. Jauk, E., Benedek, M., Dunst, B., & Neubauer, A. C. (2013). The relationship between intelligence and creativity: New support for the threshold hypothesis by means of empirical breakpoint detection. Intelligence, 41(4), 212_221. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2013.03.003

  12. Scientific American Mind 16, 16 - 23 (2005). doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0405-16

  13. Miller BL, Hou CE. Portraits of Artists: Emergence of Visual Creativity in Dementia. Arch Neurol. 2004;61(6):842-844. doi:10.1001/archneur.61.6.842.

  14. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1975;32(1):70-73. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1975.01760190072008.

  15. Schuldberg, D., French, C., Stone, B. L., & Heberle, J. (1988). Creativity and schizotypal traits. Creativity test scores and perceptual aberration, magical ideation, and impulsive nonconformity. J Nerv Ment Dis, 176(11), 648-657.

  16. Kapur, N. (1996). Paradoxical functional facilitation in brain-behaviour research. A critical review. Brain, 119 ( Pt 5), 1775-1790.

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© 2020 HVMN Inc. All Rights Reserved. H.V.M.N.®, Health Via Modern Nutrition™, Nootrobox®, Rise™, Sprint®, Yawn®, Kado™, and GO Cubes® are registered trademarks of HVMN Inc. ΔG® is a trademark of TΔS® and used under exclusive license by HVMN Inc.