Creativity Tests and Interdisciplinary Creativity Research

Posted March 7, 2019

Not too long ago I gave an address at a wonderful “Bridges” meeting in Bergen, Norway. The other presentations were quite interesting. It was a well-organized, enjoyable, worthwhile event. My own presentation was about the pros and cons of interdisciplinary work. There are so many pros, and the reasons for the benefits are quite clear. Interdisciplinary work gives us perspective, brings assumptions to light, and allows us to avoid conceptual ruts, just to name the most obvious explanations for the benefits. It may be surprising that there are cons, but of course that is how things work. You have to take the good with the bad, and sometimes it is necessary to work through the latter to get to the former. And the cons are not horrendous. Interdisciplinary work takes effort, for example, because it is challenging, so you must expend resources. But so does exercise, and it is surely a good thing.

With all of this in mind I am quite pleased that the 2019 Creativity Conference, hosted by Southern Oregon University and taking place in July in Ashland, Oregon, will again be larger, international, and interdisciplinary. The inaugural event in 2018 had over 330 creativity participants from 28 countries! And when the 2018 Call for Proposals went out, we received about 170 proposals. One year later we have well over 200 proposals for the 2019 conference! Last year Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Sternberg gave rousing Keynote Addresses, and this year we again have stellar speakers, including Teresa Amabile and Dean Keith Simonton. The proposals confirm that the conference will be large and interdisciplinary. Very likely this will be an annual event, in Ashland, Oregon.

Getting back to the “Bridges” talk: I devoted a sizeable portion of my presentation to Physics. I did that in part because my presentations are always new. I can’t do it any other way; each one is (dare I say it?) original. I have been fascinated with Physics for quite some time, and the more I look at it, the more creativity I see. This takes us back to the benefits of interdisciplinary work, for Physics offers those of us studying creativity various metaphors that help us to think about the creative process. Indeed, Selcuk Acar and I have recently used cognitive hyperspace to describe creative thinking (which is not only divergent, but may be iteratively divergent that it explores N- dimensions, diverging and diverging again). Theories of creativity have also used fractals and chaos theory, each of which is also found in Physics and the hard sciences. What intrigues me the most right now is actually close to complementarity and the possibility that creative thinking utilizes paradoxes and contradictions—much like the physicists who view light as both waves and particles. I have been exploring the possibility that this will help us to understand the “standard definition of creativity” (Runco & Jaeger, 2012) and explain how we can produce ideas that are both original and yet effective.

Before leaving Physics I must also point to the intriguing writings about physicists, especially that of Arthur Miller. There is also Shlain’s work about artists who see things decades before Physicists see the same things. Perhaps artists are antennae (as Ezra Pound claimed years ago)!

My presentation in Bergen, at “Bridges,” also noted the interdisciplinary benefits when creativity research looks to economics, history, genetics, ethics, politics, computer science, and the law. (I just finished a blog post about creativity and politics but that is posted on the Creativity Testing Services site.) Each of these perspectives is discussed in my creativity textbook, the third edition of which Academic Press is releasing in 2019.

I have not read all proposals for the 2019 Oregon Creativity Conference but it could be that, there too, the interdisciplinary approach to creativity will be on full display. This was certainly true of the 2018 Inaugural conference, and already I know that the 2019 creativity conference in Oregon will have presentations from the neurosciences (a panel, in fact), education, counseling and clinical psychology, and workshops for organizations, artists, and researchers.

There will also be work on creativity testing, as you might expect, given the amount of new research being done in this area. Computerized testing is just about the norm these days, and research on scores derived from semantic and associative networks is indicating an increased objectivity and breadth of information. Kenes Beketayev and I have found the computerized score based on the number of semantic categories in a person’s divergent thinking to be highly correlated with the traditional (but time-consuming and more subjective) flexibility score, for example, and recently Denis Dumas and I used partial correlations and found that computer scores for originality are not biased by fluency, as was the case of some old scoring methods.

This is relevant to the message above about interdisciplinarity in that the field of Psychometrics is also contributing to theories of creative cognition and offering suggestions for education (and industrial/organizational structure) that supports creative problem solving. That in turn pays off in so many domains, including the moral, political, and ethical. Csikszentmihali and Sternberg both had quite a bit to say about creativity in politics at the 2018 Creativity Conference, as you can imagine, and I am writing about this whenever I can (Runco, in press), for obvious reasons (i.e., the disturbing state of affairs in Washington, 2016-2019).

Things are booming in the field of creativity. Or “fields” I should say.

Suggested Readings

Beketayev, K., & Runco, M.A. (2016). Scoring Divergent Thinking Tests With a Semantics-Based Algorithm. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 12(2), 210-220. DOI:10.5964/ejop.v12i2.1127

Dumas, D., & Runco, M.A. (2018). Objectively Scoring Divergent Thinking Tests for Originality: A Re-Analysis and Extension. Creativity Research Journal.

Runco, M.A. (In press). Political Examples of a Dark Side of Creativity and the Impact on Education. In C.Mullen (Ed)., Education Under Duress. New York: Springer.

Runco, M.A., & Acar, S. (2019). Divergent Thinking. In J.C. Kaufman & R.J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.