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How Do We Measure Creativity?

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Within the student population, there are many highly creative individuals. I am not only talking about those studying disciplines traditionally considered creative (such as arts and humanities) but also  about students who have a variety of interests divergent from the degree that they study, such as those studying maths with a keen interest in playing music and debating. At university, there is certainly an abundance of choice in terms of creative outlets available, such as creative writing, music, sports, arts and many more.

I find it very inspiring when people create and are passionate about their hobbies; finding out why people enjoy different creative outlets and what they do for entertainment in their spare time is one of the most fascinating aspects of human interaction for me. But why are some people creative, successful in harnessing their creativity and extremely motivated to be creative, whereas others are not creative at all? Also, why can certain people excel in various creative endeavours while others only excel in one field? How can creativity be accurately defined and measured? Answers to these and many more questions are available from modern psychology.

Three main ways of measuring creativity have been proposed: the creativity quotient (CQ), psychometrics, and the social-personality approachMeasuring creativity by a quotient similar to an IQ was mostly unsuccessful because creativity is a highly abstract concept, there can be no right or wrong answers to a set of questions about creativity.

But researchers have managed to test creativity through tests that employ imagination and open-mindedness to various options. Such tests, known as “divergence tests” consider the uniqueness of a response and how people understand different concepts, instead of asking for a single right answer.

Another way to measure the outcomes of creative actions could be psychometrics. It is using questionnaires to measure people’s skills, character traits, educational attainment and knowledge in order to find out about people’s attitudes, behaviours and thinking. A 2005-questionnaire used for trying to understand creativity is the Creative Achievement Questionnaire (CAQ). This questionnaire requires subjects to rate their achievements in the creative domains of visual arts, music, dance, architectural design, creative writing, humour, inventions, scientific discovery, theatre and film, and culinary arts.

This could be an appropriate way of measuring creative outcomes because people know how creative they are. On the other hand, it is much harder to assess one’s own creativity in a rational, honest and accurate way, than that of others.

Lastly, the social-personality approach attempts to measure creativity by measuring other personality factors and claiming that these are the parts of creativity. For instance, risk-taking, aesthetic orientation and attitudes, interest in complexity, confidence and independence of judgement have been suggested to be factors of creativity. This has held in some cases, with research showing that artists are more open to new experiences, less conscientious than non-artists, whereas scientists are more conscientious and more confident, as well also being very open to new experiences compared to non-scientists.

But I am not convinced by this approach because I think it limits our understanding of what creativity might be. Similarly, I do not fully agree with the psychometrics measurements because people are unlikely to be able to judge their own creativity correctly and also it is impossible to measure creativity by numbers anyway. I feel that the divergent tests which do not attempt to define creativity or attribute numbers to the measurement but only note down how people think and create and attempt to combine the findings into patterns, may have more of a success in gaining at least a partial understanding of what creativity is.

We should stop trying to measure abstract concepts by numbers or separate unclear concepts into factors we do know about. To study the abstract, more abstract, imaginative and open-minded ways are necessary, that will not limit creativity. A take-home message for us, the students, from this would be that since no perfect measures exist, we should create new ones ourselves that will be more satisfying. Surely between all the students in the UK, we can find a new way to harness and assess this brainpower, capacity, imagination, resourcefulness, inspiration creativity (whatever you want to call it). Let’s measure creativity in creative ways! 

Elizabeth Kaplunov, PhD is a chartered psychologist who evaluates projects about health technology for disabled and vulnerable people. 

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