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Creativity is a subject of considerable interest to business, the arts, and increasingly the general public as creativity is increasingly used as a positive descriptor. Despite this psychological research into the topic has been fairly sparse (Runco 2004). However there has been a surge in interest in recent years.

Many authors (e.g. Barron, 1988- cited Lubart 1994) define a creative product as one that is both novel and appropriate. However, while this definition makes some instinctive sense, it is not without its problems - both of the dimensions suggested may be fulfilled to a greater or lesser extent and in different ways. For example there is a distinction to be drawn between novelty to the individual and novelty to the entire world (it might be argued that there are other levels in between), Boden (2004) labels these two types of novelty as psychologically novel (p-novel) or historically novel (h-novel). A further issue here is that while it is relatively easy to know what is h-novel, it is more tricky to know what is p-novel.

Additionally even if we can measure novelty and appropriateness in a reliable manner does this really give us any insight into the underlying process? It seems difficult to provide a better means of measuring the creativity of a product than novelty and appropriateness but it is important to note that this definition is certainly not perfect and is open to problems in measurement.

My work and that of many others within the field has a tacit assumption that there is some underlying process or set of processes which are common to creative endeavour. Therefore if one can improve the ability to use these processes or increase their use in some way then one may generally improve creativity. Currently my research is focussed on the impact of different categorical descriptions of goal on creative discovery. I am particularly interested in the argument of Barsalou (e.g. 2005) that our understanding and experience of the physical world may impact on our understanding of category. With this in mind I have chosen items taken from physical interface toolkits to form the basis of my experimentation.

Study One

Finke, Ward and Smith (1992) propose that creativity is based upon cognitive mechanisms used in non-creative thought. These mechanisms are used in a variety of ways and in different combinations. They propose that in general creativity consists of a cycle of generation and exploration, what they call the geneplore model. This model posits that pre-inventive forms are generated and then explored, this may lead to revision of the forms or generation of new ones which are then explored. Finke (1990) provides experimental evidence for this is presented by using 3D shapes for the creation of imaginary devices, these shapes are then arranged by the subjects either with or without them being told the kind of artefact they are to make. Finke found that when subjects displayed greater creativity (as rated by judges) when they made pre-inventive forms without the knowledge what kind of artefact was to be designed afterwards. This study was a replication and extension of the work of Finke (1990) and investigated the effect of preinventive form on creative discovery using imagined three dimensional shapes. It also introduced a variance of Finke’s (1990) conditions which we called preinventive play or PIP in addition to his preinventive form (PIF) and no preinventive form (NOP).

Results and Discussion

The results of this study failed to replicate the findings of Finke (1990) with no significant differences or indeed any difference even approaching levels of significance being found between any of the three conditions. Additionally no significant differences were found within participants for the different conditions other than a significant difference between NOP first followed by PIP. This result is difficult to explain given that the differentiation between these two conditions is not seen when NOP follows PIP and that no other within differences were found. Additionally the difference in creativity scores appears to be due to higher scores in originality and practicality, not just practicality as one might expect in the NOP condition. It is also worth noting here that this result perhaps goes against what one might expect from Finke’s (1990) results since while he does not have a PIP condition it does have a preinventive component to it as opposed to NOP. One possible interpretation here is that the introduction of category without the constraint of solidifying the arrangement of objects created in the preinventive phase overrides the preinventive form and results in an effectively rushed NOP phase. However no strong conclusions may be drawn here.

Study Two

Since study one dramatically failed to replicate the results of Finke (1990) so a different approach was adopted. Finke (1990) found an effect of category while he interprets, following Rosch (1973) as being due to a distinction between providing object function or class we believed that an alternative explanation would be an effect of goal directed vs taxonomic categorisation. Participants were given two trials one with a category and one with free reign. The categories used were a subset of the taxonomic categories used in the majority of Finke’s (1990) study. Additionally participants were given longer to make their invention and a think out loud protocol was adopted in the hope of gaining some insight into the process and how it might vary with different instructions. The inventions created were again judged by independent judges who were additionally asked to choose and rank their ten favourite inventions


No significant differences were found between the judged ratings using the two axis original/practical model. However some intriguing indications were gained in the ordering task. A number of inventions were selected repeatedly and tended to rank highly in the top ten. One individual had both inventions selected, perhaps suggesting a role of individual differences. Additionally the free choice condition was over represented in the favourite inventions. Analysis of the protocols is underway.

Study Three

The constraining effect of exemplars on originality has been demonstrated by Ward and Smith (e.g. Smith, Ward & Schumacher, 1993). Given that originality is a key part of the typical two dimensional model of creativity used in experimental investigation of the phenomena of creativity (see for example Runco 2004) this seems to be an important finding. The idea of exemplars forming a basis for categorisation has arguably been around at least since Plato’s world of forms. In psychology the work of Rosch (e.g. 1973) has been used to put forward the notion of the presence of exemplars in our cognitive mechanisms of categorisation. However subsequent work by researchers such as Barsalou (2005) may suggest that our understanding of category is based upon our experience of the world and may be altered according to our goals and experience. This might be used to support the view that the apparent existence of exemplars is an emergent property of common experience. Given that creativity at least in terms of creative generation may be strongly influenced by our starting point in our mental landscape it seems likely that if our understanding of things is affected by goal then manipulating categorical instruction may have an effect upon creative generation. This study examines the effect of different types of categorisation on the creativity of conceptual inventions based upon items taken from physical user interface kits, as assessed by independent judges.


As this study has yet to go through the judging phase the results are pending. However analysis will be complete by the conference


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Handbook of categorization in cognitive science (pp. 619-650). St. Louis: Elsevier.
Barron, F. (1988). Putting creativity to work. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.) The nature of creativity:
Contemporary psychological perspectives (pp 76-98). New York: Cambridge University
Boden, M.A. (2004). The creative mind : myths and mechanisms (2nd ed.).
London: Routledge.
Finke, R.A (1990). Creative Imagery: Discoveries and Inventions in Visualisation. Hillsdale,
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Finke, R.A., Ward, T.B. & Smith S.M. (1992). Creative cognition: Theory, research and
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Runco, M.A. (2004). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology. 55, 657-687.
Smith, S.M., Ward. T.B. & Schumacher, J.S. (1993). Constraining effects of examples in a
creative generation task. Memory & Cognition, 21, 837-845

Last modified 15 February 2008 at 4:25 pm by hodie