By Avigayil Kadesh
Kids can actually be taught to think creatively, according to a study by researchers at Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences. The key concept is "expansive" thought, where children are encouraged to think about distant objects and perspectives instead of those in their immediate surroundings.
It’s not hard to get kids thinking in this way, says Prof. Nira Liberman, who supervised the study of 55 children aged six to nine from Ra’anana and Ramat Hasharon.
Her psychology students Maayan Blumenfeld, Boaz Hameiri and Orli Polack showed half of the subjects a series of photographs that started with nearby objects and gradually progressed to more distant ones — from a close-up of the pencil sitting on their school desk progressing to a picture of the Milky Way galaxy. The other half was shown exactly the same photographs but in reverse order.
After looking at the photographs, both groups of children completed an abbreviated version of the Tel Aviv Creativity Test (TACT), in which they were given an object and asked to describe different possible uses for it. Points are given for the number of uses mentioned and the creativity of the use.
The children who viewed the series of photos from close to far away, the “expansive thinking group,” scored significantly better on all of the creativity measures, coming up with a greater number of uses and more creative uses for the objects.
The children were shown a series of photos that started with objects on their school desks and gradually progressed from the outside of the school to outer space. (Photos courtesy of Prof. Nira Liberman)
Creative thinking = successful careers
Learning expansive thinking could help children develop better interpersonal and problem-solving skills and perhaps even invent new theories and concepts leading to successful careers in the arts, sciences and business.
“I do a lot of work on the effects of psychological distance on creativity,” says Liberman. She had never before tested the same effects in children, so she didn’t know whether people learn to associate psychological distance with expansive thought over a period of years, or whether this is a potential skill that people are born with. As far as she knows, nobody had done such studies with children.
The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
, indicate that creativity may in fact have nothing to do with age. “The fact that these young children show that connection demonstrates to us it’s not an effect of years,” Liberman says.
Rather, the connection seems to have been a direct result of priming the children to think expansively rather than contractively. “Psychological distance can help to foster creativity because it encourages us to think abstractly," explains Liberman.
Just as physical exercises lead to stronger and more flexible bodies, creative exercises train minds to think more creatively. Liberman hopes to explore this notion with further studies on even younger children. It could have broad implications.
"The flexibility of your mental operations is important because it underlies many human qualities, such as empathy, self-regulation, problem-solving and the ability to make new discoveries," she says.