Social Psychology of Creativity:A Consensual Assessment TechniqueTeresa M. AmabileBrandeis UniversityAlthough personality research has made much progress in developing an individual-difference psychology of creativity, the nature of this phenomenon canonly be fully illuminated if a social psychology of creativity is developed as well.Yet experimental studies of social and environmental influences on creativity areextremely rare. A major obstacle to such research is the criterion problem: thelack of a clear operational definition and an appropriate assessment methodology.For a variety of reasons, both the popular creativity tests and the subjectiveassessment techniques used in some previous creativity studies are ill-suited tosocial psychological studies of creativity. A consensual definition of creativity ispresented and, as a refinement of previous subjective methods, a reliable subjective assessment technique based on that definition is described. Several studiestesting the methodology in both artistic and verbal domains are presented, andthe advantages and limitations of this technique are discussed. The present methodology can be particularly useful for the development of a social psychology ofcreativity because of the nature of the tasks employed and the nature of thecreativity assessments obtained. In the discussion, creativity assessment is considered as one instance illustrating the more general issue of the divergent aimsand methods of personality psychology and social psychology.The. past 30 years have seen an enormousincrease in creativity research. Creativity ciThls work was supported in part by Predoctoral Fellowship 5F31 MH05232-02 from the National Instituteof Mental Health and by a BRSG SO7044 awarded bythe Biomedical Research Support Grant Program, Division of Research Resources, the National Institutes ofHealth.The author gratefully acknowledges the help of severalcolleagues, students, and friends who worked on thestudies reported here: Carolyn Amabile, Phyllis Amabile, and Julia Steinmetz, who provided invaluable assistance in the design and execution of Study 1; ElliotEisner, who offered several suggestions for Study 1;Steven Berglas and Marie Handel, who collaborated onStudy 2; Margaret Stubbs, who collaborated on Study3; Shereen Brackfield, who collaborated on Study 6;Phyllis Goldfarb, who collaborated on Study 7; LisaHerman and Ronit Goldlust who helped conduct Study8; and the principals, teachers, and students of St. Jude'sSchool in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Charles ,E.Cashman School in Amesbury, Massachusetts, for theirinvaluable cooperation in Studies 2 and 3.In addition, several colleagues offered very helpfulcomments on an earlier draft of this manuscript: William DeJong, Maurice Hershenson, Robert Kidd, EllenLanger, Mark Lepper, Leslie McArthur, Ricardo Morant, Harvey Pines, Lee Ross, Mark Snyder, and Margaret Stubbs.Requests for reprints should be sent to Teresa M.Amabile, Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 02254.tations, which accounted for less than .2% ofthe listings in Psychological Abstracts in1950, made up more than 1% of the citationsin 1980. Despite this proliferation of researchpublications on creativity, however, there hasbeen virtually no work on the social psychology of creativity. Between 1975 and1980, there were barely half a dozen articlesin the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that dealt in some way withthe effects of social and environmental factors on creativity. Instead, creativity researchhas been heavily personality oriented; studieson the description and identification of creative personality and cognitive style havepredominated (e.g., Gough, 1979;Lott, 1978;Sobel & Rothenberg, 1980).Development of a social psychology of creativity could be important for both personality and social psychology, as well as for thestudy of creativity. Although a great deal ofresearch has already focused on the creativepersonality, an illumination of the types ofsocial variables that can positively or negatively influence creative performance wouldaid in the comprehensive description of cre-Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1982, Vol. 43, No. 5, 997-1013Copyright 1982 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/82/4305-0997S00.75997
998TERESA M. AMABILEative personality, its development, and itsmanifestation. Within social psychology, researchers have in recent years turned increasing attention to an exploration of the effectsof social factors on various aspects of cognitive and motor performance (e.g., Condry,1977; Deci, 1971; Diener & Dweck, 1978;Kruglanski, Friedman, & Zeevi, 1971; Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973; McGraw &McCullers, 1979; Seta & Hassan, 1980; Wimperis & Fair, 1979). As one important aspectof performance that has been virtually ignored in these investigations, creativity shouldbe integrated into social psychological theories of motivation and cognition. Finally,although cognitive and characterological determinants of creativity unquestionably deserve research attention, theories of the creative process will be incomplete without anaccounting of social-situational determinantsas well.Methodologically, studies of the social psychology of creativity can be grouped into twobroadly denned categories: archival and experimental. An excellent example of the former type is a program of research carried outover the past few years by Simonton (1975,1977a, 1977b, 1979). In these studies* datacollected from archival sources such as histories, anthologies, and biographical dictionaries are subjected to transhistorical time-series analyses to test hypotheses about the effect of social variables such as role modelavailability and political instability on creative production. Despite the utility of thisapproach, however, it must be coupled withexperimental techniques to more clearlyidentify the causal influence of social factorson creativity and the mechanism of theiroperation (Simonton, 1975). It is such experimental investigations that are so rare inthe literature of personality and social psychology.Most of the experimental work on creativity has used one of two assessment techniques. Some researchers have had judgesrate products (or the persons who producedthem) on scales of creativity. The vast majority, however, have relied upon creativitytests—instruments that are usually similar inform and administration to conventional intelligence tests. Despite these two rather wellestablished approaches to the assessment ofcreativity, it can be argued that the criterionproblem still presents a major obstacle to successful and rigorous empirical work in allareas of creativity research and especially inthe social psychology of creativity. The definition and assessment of creativity have longbeen the subject of disagreement and dissatisfaction among psychologists. This problemhas been dealt with in a variety of ways bythe few researchers who have experimentallystudied social influences on creativity, butnone of them has explicitly addressed theadequacy of conventional assessment methods in any detail.Creativity TestsAlthough several different batteries of creativity tests have been developed, the mostwidely used (and the prototype for manyother tests) are the Torrance Tests of CreativeThinking (TTCT; Torrance, 1962). TheTTCT consist of a number of subtests, mostof which are verbal, although some involvedrawing. The child (or adult, depending onthe form used) is typically presented with oneor several subtests, such as the Unusual Usestest, in which the child is asked to think ofas many different uses as he can for a common object; the Consequences Test, in whichthe child is required to suggest consequencesof several "impossible" events (e.g., peoplebecoming invisible at will); and ImaginativeStories, where the child is asked to write aninteresting and exciting story on a given topic(e.g., the dog that doesn't bark). Responsesto these test items are scored according to thenumber and variety of ideas expressed, aswell as the elaboration of ideas and their statistical infrequency. Most other creativitytests are similar to the TTCT in form, content, administration, and scoring (e.g., Guilford, 1967; Wallach & Kogan, 1965).One conceptual problem with the use ofcreativity tests in empirical studies of creativeperformance is that their use is not clearlytied to an operational definition of creativity.There are, certainly, many definitions of creativity. Although some theorists have expressed the bold hope that an ultimate definition will one day be articulated (Ghiselin,1963), it is generally recogni/ed that a searchfor specific, objectively identifiable features
CREATIVITY ASSESSMENTcommon to all creative products will not befruitful. Instead, most definitions, while using the creative product as the distinguishingsign of creativity, propose that the generalqualities of novelty and appropriateness differentiate creative from uncreative products(e.g., Barren, 1955; Bruner, 1962; Newell,Shaw, & Simon, 1962; Stein, 1974). In otherwords, the product or response must be unusual, statistically infrequent, or completelyunique, and it must also be correct in thecontext of the problem or audience to whichit was addressed. In addition, some theoristsdefine creativity in terms of the response thatthe product produces in an observer. For example, Bruner (1962) saw the creative product as anything that produces "effective surprise" in the observer, along with a "shockof recognition" that the product or response,although novel, is entirely appropriate.Despite the existence of such intuitivelyreasonable definitions, however, current assessment techniques depending on the creativity tests are not closely linked to them.Indeed, it can be argued that the criterionproblem in creativity research has arisen inlarge part because most definitions do notinclude conceptualizations that are readilytranslated into useful assessment criteria, letalone ultimate criteria. It is not clear, for example, how one might assess novelty andappropriateness in any general way or howone might determine in any satisfactory waywhether an observer is experiencing "effective surprise" and a "shock of recognition."As a result, the creativity tests and the studiesbuilt around them are operating in a definitional void. There is no clear, explicit statement of the criteria that conceptually underlie the assessment procedures.A second problem is the basically subjective nature of the purportedly objective scoring procedures in the creativity tests. Performance on these tests is rated according to thetest constructor's or scorer's intuitive assessment of what is creative and not accordingto objective criteria of novelty, appropriateness, satisfyingness, and so on. Motivatedperhaps by the apparent success of objectivetests of intelligence, creativity researchersmight have been too quick to attempt to objectify the assessment of creativity. Almostcertainly, many creativity tests do measure999abilities that are important for creative performance, but it is unclear whether they areuseful for directly assessing something calledcreativity. It will be argued here that suchjudgments can ultimately only be subjective.For the purposes of developing a socialpsychology of creativity, however, the mostcrucial feature of the creativity tests is thatthey were primarily developed as tools forpersonality research. They were expresslydesigned to be sensitive to individual differences in performance in a wide variety ofdomains—verbal, artistic, scientific, andmathematical (e.g., Guilford, 1956, 1957a,1957b; Torrance, 1962). To the extent thatthey are able to detect subtle individual differences, however, these tests are problematicfor experimental studies of social and environmental influences on creativity. Althoughit has been suggested that creativity tests canbe influenced by social and environmentalfactors (e.g., Wallach & Kogan, 1965), thereis abundant evidence that many of these testsdo assess rather stable individual differences(e.g.,Gakhar&Luthra, 1973; Holland, 1968;Torrance, 1972a, 1972b). It is precisely thissuccess in identifying stable traits that renders creativity tests less appropriate for studies of environmental influences (Feldman,1980). Normally, social psychologists seek tocontrol for and, as much as possible, eliminate individual-difference or within-groupvariability in the crucial dependent measuresso that those measures can more easily detectthe "signal" of between-group differencesproduced by experimental manipulations(Carlsmith, Ellsworth, & Aronson, 1976).Thus, in developing a social psychology ofcreativity, it would seem unwise to rely uponassessment techniques that were expresslydesigned to reveal consistent individual differences.Judgments of ProductsThe second, and much less common, approach to creativity assessment has been theuse of judges to provide subjective ratings ofthe creativity of products or the persons whoproduced them (e.g., Domino, 1974; Helson& Crutchfield, 1970; Kruglanski et al., 1971;MacKinnon, 1962; Sobel & Rothenberg,1980). In one of the best known of the studies
1000TERESA M. AMABILEusing this approach, for example, MacKinnon and his colleagues (1962) asked fiveuniversity professors of architecture to nominate the 40 most creative architects in theUnited States and to rate the creativity ofeach on a 5-point scale. The nominated architects were then invited to participate inextensive personality assessments. In otherstudies (e.g., Sobel & Rothenberg, 1980), subjects with special expertise or experience ina particular domain are asked to produceworks in that domain during the experimental session; these products are then rated oncreativity by expert judges.Studies that have employed subjectivejudgment have clearly avoided one of theproblems noted earlier with the creativitytests. In their use of judges' ratings, they present an assessment of creativity in which thesubjective nature of the measure is direct andunveiled, in contrast to the apparent objectivity of the creativity tests. In other respects,however, even these methods present difficulties. These studies, too, often suffer froma definitional void by failing to explictly articulate the definition of creativity guidingthe research or by presenting conceptual definitions (usually including novelty and appropriateness as criteria) that are not directlytied to the assessment procedure. In addition,in their assessment procedures, these studiesoften fail to differentiate between the creativity of the products and other constructs,such as technical correctness or aesthetic appeal. Moreover, the interjudge reliabilitymight be questioned in studies where the experimenter presents judges with his or herown definition of creativity for them to applyor trains judges beforehand to agree with oneanother (e.g., Eisner, 1965).Of primary importance for the presentdiscussion, however, are the ways in whichprevious subjective methodologies might beinappropriate for use in social psychologicalresearch. Although these techniques may nothave been specifically designed for personality research, those that require judges tomake assessments of a person on the basisof a large body of work over time are likelyto detect relatively stable characteristics andwould, therefore, certainly be better suitedto personality than to social-psychologicalresearch.Even those assessment procedures thathave judges rate a single product, however,may be too sensitive to large and stable individual differences in performance. In a recent conceptualization of the creative process(Amabile, in press), it was proposed that creativity depends on three classes of factors:domain-relevant skills, such as knowledgeabout and talent in the domain, which depend on innate abilities and training; creativity-relevant skills, such as cognitive style,work habits, and knowledge of creativity heuristics, which depend on personality characteristics and training; and task motivation,which depends on individual task preferencesand socially imposed constraints. A socialpsychological study might, for example, investigate decrements in creativity resultingfrom a decrease in task motivation by theoffer of a tangible reward. The assessment ofcreativity will be most sensitive to such taskmotivational effects if the influence of domain-relevant and creativity-relevant skillscan be controlled or eliminated. Thus, to theextent that the task presented to subjectsdraws on special talents or experience-relatedskills—as the tasks in most previous subjective-assessment studies do—the assessmentwill be insensitive to social-psychological effects. Moreover, the high levels of skill required by some tasks employed will limitpossible subject populations to those whohave considerable experience in that domain.It appears, then, that the criterion problempresents a major obstacle to the investigationof social-environmental effects on creativity.The development of a social psychology ofcreativity that could be integrated with personality and cognitive research might be facilitated by a straightforward operational definition of creativity and by an assessmenttechnique amenable to social-psychologicalinquiry. The definition and the methodologydescribed here are presented to that end.A Consensual Definition of CreativityThe creativity assessment technique described here is grounded in a consensual definition of creativity—an explicitly operational definition that implicitly underliesmost subjective creativity assessment methodologies:
CREATIVITY ASSESSMENTA product or response is creative to the extent that appropriate observers independently agree it is creative.Appropriate observers are those familiar with the domain in which the product was created or the responsearticulated. Thus, creativity can be regarded as the quality of products or responses judged to be creative byappropriate observers, and it can also be regarded as theprocess by which something so judged is produced.It should be noted, first, that this definition, like most current definitions of creativity, is based on the creative product ratherthan on the process or the person. Not onlyis a clear articulation of the creative processnot yet possible but, more importantly, anyidentification of a thought process as creativemust finally depend on the fruit of that process—a product or response. Similarly, evena clear specification of the personality traitsthat mark outstandingly creative individualswould have to be validated against theirwork. Thus, a product-centered operationaldefinition is clearly most useful for empiricalresearch in creativity.Perhaps the most important feature of thisdefinition is its reliance on subjective criteria.In this way, it overcomes the difficulty ofattempting to specify ultimate objective criteria for identifying products as creative. Indeed, it can be argued that it is impossibleto articulate such ultimate criteria—that, justas the.judgment of attitude statements asmore or less favorable (Thurstone & Chave,1929) or the identification of individuals asphysically attractive (Walster, Aronson,Abrahams, & Rottman, 1966) depends on asocial context, so too does the judgment ofcreativity. Certainly, there must be particularcharacteristics of attitude statements of persons or products that observers systematically look to in rating them on scales of favorability or physical attractiveness or creativity, but, ultimately, the choice of thosecharacteristics is a subjective one. This assertion of the necessarily subjective natureof creativity assessment must be emphatically underscored, given the strong predominance of creativity tests in empirical research and the tendency for many observersto regard these tests as pure, objective measures of creativity.This consensual definition of creativityalso avoids the translation pr
Social Psychology of Creativity: A Consensual Assessment Technique Teresa M. Amabile Brandeis University Although personality research has made much progress in developing an indi-vidual-difference psychology of creativity, the nature of this phenomenon can only be fully illuminated if a social psychology of creativity is developed as well.
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