Home Technology & the American Creativity Crisis

Technology & the American Creativity Crisis

“For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining.” That’s the opening salvo in a recent Newsweek story that points to the latest results from the Torrance Tests of Critical Thinking that assess Americans’ “CQ” – creativity quotient.

Measuring the CQ involves a series of simple tests to track divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills. These are scored based on fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. First developed by E. Paul Torrance, researchers have been administering these tests to children as well as tracking their successes as adults since the 1950s.

By no means a perfect assessment of creativity, the CQ scores of kids do seem nevertheless to be a prediction of their “creative accomplishments” as adults. “Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers,” write Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of the Newsweek article. “The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”

Who’s to Blame?

Video Games: It’s no surprise that the Newsweek article is quick to blame television and video games for dulling our children’s creativity, even though the authors admit that there is no conclusive evidence that they’re the culprit.

Game designer Raph Koster responded to the article on his blog, suggesting that games can encourage, not dampen problem solving. He admits that “many games these days “come with the answers” – there’s only one way to solve the puzzles they present – a “through line” that was created by the designers.” But he notes that the Newsweek article points to the creation of “paracosms” – detailed imaginary worlds – as being strongly correlated with winning a MacArthur “Genius Grant” as an adult. And rich fantasy play is arguably an important part of much video game-play.

Measure the wrong thing, get the wrong thing. – Vicki Davis


: Despite the relatively easy target of video games as responsible for the decline in kids’ creativity (I guess blaming rock music for the decline of Western Civilization is no longer acceptable), it’s the American school system that seems to shoulder most of the responsibility, according to the Newsweek article. Instead of encouraging creativity, teachers must adhere to curriculum standards and regular testing.

As teacher Vicki Davis notes, “Measure the wrong thing, get the wrong thing. Our students are a product of the formula of measurement we use to gauge progress.”

Who Can Solve the Problem?

Finger-pointing – at teachers or at video-game makers or at the entertainment industry – does little to address the decline in Americans’ CQ. And if, as the Newsweek headline suggests, this is a “crisis,” then it seems as though the tech industry – an industry that both fosters and relies on creative thinking and on innovation – should probably take notice and take action.

Koster suggests that game developers respond to this CQ decline by attempting “to make games that encourage creative thinking, if not out of some sense of civic or moral obligation, then as a way of “paying it forward” – something made us creative enough to make the games in the first place, so we shouldn’t hog all the fun.” Similarly, there are many opportunities for creators of education technologies to design products and services that don’t just make kids better standardized test-takers, but make them skilled problem-solvers.

The Newsweek article concludes that “Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.”

Can technology help develop more creative thinkers as well? Or will it continue to be seen as part of the problem?

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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