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Are We Losing Creative Thinking Ability?

The Creativity ChallengeCreative thinking is a vital element in healthy and growing people and cultures.

As The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity puts it, “We live in a society where those who do not creatively innovate risk failure in any of several domains of life.”

The book adds that “Legendary thinkers throughout time, from Aristotle to Einstein, have pondered what it means to be creative.

“There are still debates, after more than six decades of intensive research, on how to measure, utilize, and improve it.”

One of the most widely used evaluations of creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which includes scores on four scales:

Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.

Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.

Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.

Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.   [Wikipedia]

Dr. Kyung Hee Kim is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at The College of William and Mary, and in 2010 published her study “The Creativity Crisis,” in which she showed the United States has been experiencing a decline in creativity since 1990, based on a total of 272,599 TTCT scores of people from young children to adults.

In a Creativity Post article, Yes, There IS a Creativity Crisis!, she describes her sobering findings, also published in the Creativity Research Journal in November 2011.

She found that “Elaboration scores decreased the earliest, starting in 1984, which indicates that we are less able to elaborate ideas and think reflectively and that we are less persistent to be creative.

The Creativity Crisis - Newsweek“Creativity is more than just coming up with an idea, and requires hard work, persistence, and endurance to produce a final product. Imagining a story is different than writing the story.

“There is no creativity without a final, useful product.”

She points out that Elaboration scores should have increased, “because some component of Elaboration generally correlates with IQ scores, which have been increasing,” but Elaboration still decreased.

She concludes that “the divergent component of Elaboration actually decreased even more than the gross scores indicate.”

Fluency scores decreased since 1990, “indicating that we are less able to come up with ideas.

“The best way to come up with an original and unique idea is generating as many ideas as possible, and if we cannot generate a lot of ideas, then we are less likely to generate good ideas.”

She found that “Originality scores also decreased since 1990, indicating that we are less able to generate unusual ideas. Originality is one of the most critical elements of creative thinking.

“I believe the decrease results from a climate that continues to grow less tolerant of creative expression. Everyone claims to love creativity, but very few of us understand what is really involved in creativity.”

video on her book The Creativity Challenge:

Dr. Kim thinks “Psychologically, most of us are uncomfortable with the change, uncertainty, new ideas, challenges, and risk that accompany creativity and creative behavior.

“In order for thinkers to present original ideas, the climate needs to be receptive, or at least not hostile, to expression and consideration of unusual and wild ideas.”

The Creativity Challenge topics

(See video for explanation of this image.)

“The decrease in Originality scores is an indirect measure of growing social pressures toward conformity and status quo, and increasing intolerance for new ideas.”

That is a distressing conclusion, considering how much creative thinking we need to apply to so many social and economic challenges.

Dr. Kim adds, “The Creativity Crisis is not an event, but an era of continued decline in most measures of creativity.  Reversing the trend will be a process that will require patience and perseverance, because the results will not be immediate.

“Part of the barriers to creativity results from public demands for immediate and measurable solutions in education, business, and government.

“Even in this hostile climate, we need creative solutions presented to reverse the trend.”

[Video from website of Dr. Kyung Hee Kim.]

Dr. Kim is author or co-author of dozens of papers and book chapters (listed on her site), including “The relationship between creativity and intelligence” in The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity, James C. Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg, Editors.

Her main book:  The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation.

In her book Kim explains how to better understand and improve our creative thinking and expression. Here are two reviews:

“The Creativity Challenge deals directly with one of the most critical problems facing not just the United States but also the entire world: nurturing the creativity so essential to our modern times. KH Kim not only is up to the challenge but also displays considerable creativity in meeting that challenge.”
—DEAN KEITH SIMONTON, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California—Davis, and editor of The Wiley Handbook of Genius

“Intelligence by itself is overrated. What the world desperately needs, in order to cope with the rate of change and complexity, is to nurture and engage the creative power of all people. This book will likely start a creativity revolution in America—and level the playing field for solving complex problems throughout the world.”
—WENDY LUHABE, social entrepreneur, economic activist, and author of Defining Moments




Are We Losing Creative Thinking Ability?

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2016). Are We Losing Creative Thinking Ability?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Nov 2016
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