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Quick, Simple Test Assesses Creativity

leaning brain SSSome define creativity as the ability or the process by which new ideas are created. And while creativity is generally viewed as positive, testing a person’s creativity has often been difficult.

Now, a neuroscientist and a team of researchers have developed a quick but reliable test that can measure a person’s creativity from single spoken words.

Researchers say the “noun-verb” test is so simple it can be done by virtually anyone anywhere — even in a magnetic resonance imaging machine.

The ability to test someone on their creative abilities while being in a MRI machine sets the stage for scientists to pinpoint how the brain comes up with unusually creative ideas.

While some believe ingenuity is spontaneous, Michigan State University neuroscientist Jeremy Gray, Ph.D., suspects there’s a lot of hard work going on in the brain even when the proverbial light bulb going off feels effortless.

His research findings are published in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

“We want to understand what makes creativity tick, what the specific processes are in the brain,” Gray said.

“Innovation doesn’t just come for free — nobody learns their ABCs in kindergarten and suddenly writes a great novel or poem, for example. People need to master their craft before they can start to be creative in interesting ways.”

In the study, 193 participants were shown a series of nouns and instructed to respond creatively with a verb in each case. The test took about two minutes.

For the noun “chair,” for example, instead of answering with the standard verb “sit,” a participant might answer “stand,” as in to stand on a chair to change a light bulb.

The researchers checked that the answers were in fact verbs and somehow related to the noun; excluding the few nonsensical responses made no difference to the results.

The participants also were measured for creativity through a series of more in-depth methods including story writing, drawing and their creative achievements in real life.

The results: Those who gave creative answers in the noun-verb test were indeed the most creative as measured by the more in-depth methods.

This suggests the noun-verb test, or a future variation, could be successful by itself in measuring creativity.

Currently, Gray and his team are having participants complete the noun-verb test in an MRI machine while their brain activity is recorded. Researchers hope that abnormal activity in certain areas of the brain will be observed, thereby identifying parts of the brain responsible for creativity.

This test is more feasible in an MRI than, say, writing stories or drawing pictures since the machine requires people to remain virtually still.

Although much more research is needed, the findings eventually could help students, entrepreneurs, scientists and others who depend on innovative thinking.

“Ultimately, this work could allow us to create better educational and training programs to help people foster their creativity,” Gray said.

The research also could be helpful in settings where selecting creative people is important, such as the human resources office, he said.

Source: Michigan State University

Abstract of human brain photo by shutterstock.

Quick, Simple Test Assesses Creativity

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Quick, Simple Test Assesses Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 31 Oct 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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