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Can We Nurture Creativity by Playing Games?


Recently, The Creativity Post highlighted a new research suggests that American school children are becoming less creative. Americans are so proud of “American ingenuity” which is admired everywhere. Americans are the great innovators, specialists in figuring out new ways of doing things and new things to do. But Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documented a continuous decline in creativity among American school children over the last two or three decades.

Kim, who is a professor of education at the College of William and Mary, analyzed scores on a battery of measures of creativity—called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)—collected from normative samples of schoolchildren in kindergarten through twelfth grade over several decades.  According to Kim’s analyses, the scores on these tests at all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The drops in scores are highly significant statistically and in some cases very large.

According to Kim’s research, all aspects of creativity have declined, but the biggest decline is in the measure called Creative Elaboration, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way.

The Torrance Tests were developed by E. Paul Torrance in the late 1950s, when he was an education professor at the University of Minnesota.

The best evidence that the Torrance Tests really do measure creative potential come from longitudinal research showing strong, statistically significant correlations between childhood scores on the TTCT and subsequent real-world achievements.

The author Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College. He went on to emphasize that:

Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today.  In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world.  But more and more we are subjecting children to an educational system that assumes one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem, a system that punishes children (and their teachers too) for daring to try different routes.

game-based learning, play and learnI am not trying to offer a solution to this alerted situation, just like to point readers to another older research result: Research Finds Video Games Can Impact Creativity. Presented by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University at the 58th annual conference of the International Communication Association in Montreal, the study looked at how video games can improve one’s creativity. The study, lead by S. Shyam Sundar, professor of film, video and media studies at Penn State and graduate student Elizabeth Hutton, aimed to uncover the role video games could play in promoting positive social traits, in particular creativity.

The researchers evaluated 98 undergraduate and graduate students as they played Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, at various levels of complexity and varying speeds. Following their play time, participants were asked to complete a creativity test. The researchers also took readings of the players’ skin conductance and asked players if they were feeling either positive or negative after the game.

“We looked at two emotional variables: arousal and valence,” said Elizabeth Hutton to ScienceDaily. “Arousal is the degree of physical excitation — as measured through skin conductance — and valence, which is the range of positive or negative feeling.”

They found that emotions significantly affected creativity. Low physical exertion generally resulted in higher creative scores, but only when coupled with a negative mood. Alternatively, high exertion levels with a positive mood also resulted in greater creativity.

They also found that mood limited the impact of arousal. This means that for high and low levels of physical exertion, valence moderated the effect on creativity. For example, at high levels of physical exertion a positive mood lead to significant creativity, but a negative mood at the same exertion level lead to reduced creativity. On the other hand, a negative mood at a low level of exertion led to the greatest level of creativity. But moderate valence and arousal together had no significant effect.

The researchers explain, in a summary of their study, that creativity is associated with broad and diffused attention.

“You need defocused attention for being creative,” said Dr. Sundar. “When you have low arousal and are negative, you tend to focus on detail and become more analytical.” Similarly, someone with a high attention level would focus on central and more relevant cues, rather than incidental and remote cues. These cues become most easily perceivable at low and high levels of physical exertion, which leads to a broader and defocused attention from which to draw creative thoughts.

If playing video games can unleash our potential creativity, wouldn’t that be a wonderful news? What if we can leverage that power more efficiently? How? What kind of games are effective in nurturing creativity? We are free and safe to fail in all games, the imagination is unlocked from old view-points, and the playful experience might be a catalyst to flip our minds. Maybe “just play” itself could bring us closer to be like a young kid. What do you think?

Photo credit : By V&A Steamworks

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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