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Cultivating Your Child's Creativity

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Updated on Aug 23, 2012

Creativity. It’s a strength that many of us wish we could cultivate in our kids. But how can we do it? After all, creativity is something that, by definition, cannot be taught. Or so you may think.

Dr. Nira Liberman, a psychologist at Tel Aviv University, set out with her colleagues to determine whether she could actually influence a kid’s levels of creativity. What they discovered seems more like a magic trick than anything else, and yet it’s backed up by solid research.

Liberman’s Research

In 2012, Liberman and her colleagues decided to focus on whether psychological distancing could actually increase creativity in children. They studied two groups of children, between the ages of five and nine, and showed each of the two groups a different progression of the same pictures. One group viewed a series of pictures that progressed from objects that could be seen nearby (e.g., a pencil on a desk) to objects that are in the distance (e.g., the Milky Way). The second group viewed the same series of pictures in the opposite order. The researchers then gave the children several questions to test their levels of creativity, and discovered that the first group performed much better.

When Liberman and her colleagues began their research, they based it on preceding studies showing that “psychological distancing” can affect creativity in adults. In fact, Liberman had worked together with colleague Oren Shapira in 2009 to show that adults who were told that some creativity questions had been devised in a distant city actually showed more creativity than those who were told that the questions had been devised nearby. Liberman had already taken part in a study in 2004 that examined psychological distancing in time, rather than in space. These types of psychological distancing – in time and in space – were shown to affect creativity in adults. And her most current research shows that this phenomenon applies to children as well.

At the same time, Liberman points out that this study is very limited. “I would love to replicate the study with other tasks, including tasks of creative problem solving,” she says.

What is Creativity?

So what exactly is creativity? Believe it or not, this question doesn’t have a simple answer. According to Dr. Liberman, creativity is related to intelligence, but the two terms are not synonymous. “Some researchers see it as a sub-type of intellectual abilities,” she explains. “Whereas some types of intellectual pursuit are ‘convergent’ – they aim at a particular response that can be easily verified and the route to which is specifiable (e.g., solving many school math problems) – creativity is divergent, meaning that the route to the solution or sometimes the solution itself are not easily specifiable. When you learn math – you learn a specific procedure, or class of procedures. When you learn creativity you do not learn anything specific – that is why it is difficult to teach it.”

Applying the Research
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