Obtaining a solid measurement of creativity can be hugely time consuming. Well-established tests — such as the Alternative Uses Task (AUT), which asks participants to generate unusual ways to use common objects — require substantial time and effort in order to properly score participant responses. Not only that, but assessment of the creativity of responses varies wildly as a result of both the scorers’ judgements and the qualities of answers relative to the rest of the data. For example, one especially creative response amongst a sea of generic responses may garner extra points; place that same answer amongst other highly creative responses, however, and it is likely to score lower.
But take heart, overstretched researchers — a new paper in PNAS suggests there may be an easier, more reliable way to measure creativity.
In an effort to combat these issues, researchers led by Jay A. Olson from Harvard University have attempted to streamline the process by devising a new task which can be easily analysed by a computer algorithm.
Their research suggests that the newly created measure — the Divergent Association Task (DAT) — may be at least as effective at measuring verbal creativity as other, more widely known creativity measures, with the added bonuses of being both shorter and more enjoyable to participants.
We love a puzzle here at Research Digest — so here’s a couple from a recent paper in Cognition. See whether you can unscramble the anagrams in the following sentences (read on for the answers!):
The Cocos Islands are part of idnionsea
eeebyoshn kill more people worldwide each year than all poisonous snakes combined
If you successfully solved the anagrams, you may have experienced an “Aha!” or “Eureka” moment: a flash of insight where the solution suddenly becomes clear, perhaps after you have spent a while completely stumped. Usually when we experience these moments we have indeed arrived at the correct answer — they don’t tend to occur as much when we’ve stumbled upon an incorrect solution. And in fact, researchers have suggested that we even use Aha! moments as a quick way to judge the veracity of a solution or idea — they provide a kind of gut feeling which tells us that whathas just popped into our mind is probably correct.
But relying on these experiences to gauge the truth of an idea can sometimes backfire, according to the authors of the new paper. The team found that experiencing sudden moments of insight when deciphering a statement can make people more likely to believe that it is true — even when it isn’t.
This is Episode 18 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
Can psychology help us become more creative? Our presenter Ginny Smith learns how we can develop our creativity with practice, and discovers that our best “Eureka” moments often come when we step away from the task at hand. She also investigates how members of the public fare with the riddles psychologists use to study creative problem solving — see how you get on at home.
“Microdosing” psychedelic drugs involves regularly taking amounts so tiny that they don’t impair a person’s normal functioning, but — it’s claimed — subtly enhance wellbeing, concentration and creativity. In May, for example, the Digest reported on a study that found hints of reduced stress and increased emotional intensity among people who microdosed LSD and psilocybin, from ‘magic’ mushrooms.
However, we also stressed that there has been little research into the technique — and now a review of the field published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology concludes that while the popularity of microdosing has exploded over the past eight years, knowledge about what it actually does remains patchy and anecdotal. In fact, there are still far more questions about the technique than answers, write Kim Kuypers at Maastricht University, and her colleagues.
It usually helps to “get a fresh pair of eyes” on a problem, especially from someone with a different perspective than your own. But what if you could find a variety of vantage points from within yourself? After all, each of us has multiple roles and identities in life. In a new paper in Developmental Science, a team led by Sarah Gaither at Duke University presents evidence that prompting children to think about their own multiple identities boosts their problem-solving skills and increases their flexible thinking.
“Someone can be a woman and White, a teacher and a parent, a girl and a friend,” the researchers write. “Although individuals may not automatically reflect on their multiple identities, here we propose that when they do, it may have positive consequences for their creative problem solving and flexible thinking.”
What if you could take a psychedelic drug regularly in such tiny quantities that the immediate effects were not discernible, yet over time it led to a range of psychological benefits, especially enhanced focus and heightened creativity? That’s the principle behind “microdosing” – a controversial technique that’s exploded in popularity ever since the publication of a 2011 book The Psychedelic Explorers Guide and a 2015 Rolling Stone article titled How LSD Microdosing Became The Hot New Business Trip. Large online communities of microdosing enthusiasts have since emerged on sites like Reddit, where dosing tips are shared and the supposed manifold benefits of the practice are espoused.
However, actual scientific investigations into the effects of microdosing can be counted on one hand. Earlier this year, PLOS One published one of the few systematic investigations ever conducted into the practice, by Vince Polito and Richard Stevenson at Macquarie University. Though exploratory and tentative due to “legal and bureaucratic” obstacles (meaning there was no placebo control or randomisation in this research), the results suggest that microdosing can be beneficial, although not in the ways that users most expect, and not necessarily for everyone.
Imagination is sometimes claimed to be a uniquely human ability, and it has long intrigued psychologists. “Nevertheless, our understanding of the benefits and risks that individual differences in imagination hold for psychological outcomes is currently limited,” note two researchers who have created a new psychometric test – the Imaginative Behaviour Engagement Scale (IBES) – for measuring how much imagination a person has, and then used it to investigate whether, as some earlier work hinted, having a stronger imagination might aid learning and creativity.
Focus and concentration, while normally considered beneficial attributes, can stymie creativity – especially the generation of novel ideas. This has led some to wonder whether people with “leaky attention“, and especially those with ADHD – who have what Holly White, writing recently in the Journal of Creative Behaviour, calls “chaotic minds” – might have a creative advantage when it comes to breaking free from prior examples. White, who is based at the University of Michigan, has tested this possibility, and though she acknowledges her new study is small, she believes her findings provide some of the first experimental evidence that “ADHD may be advantageous for certain types of creative thinking; specifically, divergent, unconstrained creative cognition.”
A study in the journal Food Quality and Preference suggests that tea-drinking benefits divergent thinking, a key element of creativity that’s associated with generating ideas or identifying patterns. The researchers from Peking University greeted their initial 50 student participants with a cup of either hot water or black Lipton tea, before asking them to use children’s building blocks to make the most attractive design they could. Independent raters, blind to the study purpose and condition, rated the tea-drinkers designs as more creative, in terms of factors like aesthetic appeal, innovativeness and grandness.
In a second study, 40 more participants proposed names for a ramen noodle shop, and judges considered the names produced by tea-drinkers to be more innovative (but no more playful).
Tea drinking has already been tied to enhanced convergent thinking – coming up with the single correct answer to a problem – but the researchers claim theirs is the first study to find a relationship with more open, explorative thinking. The reasons for the effect aren’t clear: no significant improvement in arousal or positive mood was observed in the tea drinkers, nor did the participants prepare tea themselves, a ritual that some have speculated could help shift mindset. It’s possible that the effect is simply due to relaxation – so why not sit back and enjoy a brew with your next brainstorm.
There’s a stereotype that mental distress is an almost inevitable part of being highly creative. But is there any substance to this idea, or have we been misled – by biographers drawn to artists with colourful and chaotic lives, and the conceits of cultural movements like the romantics?
Scientific attempts to resolve this question, which have mainly focused on disorders of mood, have so far struggled to reach a definitive answer. However, in a new review in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Christa Taylor of Albany State University has applied surgical precision to open up the existing body of research and lay out what we currently know.