Creativity and Divergent Thinking: A Task-Specific Approach

Creativity and Divergent Thinking: A Task-Specific Approach

Creativity and Divergent Thinking: A Task-Specific Approach

Creativity and Divergent Thinking: A Task-Specific Approach


Do general-purpose creative-thinking skills -- skills like divergent thinking, which is touted as an important component of creative thinking no matter what the task domain -- actually make much of a contribution to creative performance? Although much recent research argues against such domain-transcending skills -- including several new studies reported in this book -- the appeal of such general skills remains strong, probably because of the theoretical economy and power such skills would provide. Divergent thinking, in particular, has had an incredible staying power. Despite its many flaws, divergent thinking remains the most frequently used indicator of creativity in both creativity research and educational practice, and divergent thinking theory has a strong hold on everyday conceptions of what it means to be creative.

Reviewing the available research on divergent thinking, this book presents a framework for understanding other major theories of creativity, including Mednick's associative theory and a possible connectionist approach of creativity. It reports a series of studies (including the study that won APA's 1992 Berlyne Prize) that demonstrate the absence of effects of general creative-thinking skills across a range of creativity-relevant tasks, but indicate that training in divergent thinking does in fact improve creative performance across diverse task domains. The book then ties these findings together with a multi-level theory, in which a task-specific approach to creativity is strengthened by recasting some divergent-thinking concepts into domain- and task-specific forms.

This book fills the gap between divergent-thinking theory and more recent, modular conceptions of creativity. Rather than advocate that we simply discard divergent thinking -- an approach that hasn't worked, or at least hasn't happened, because of many attacks on its validity and usefulness -- this book shows how to separate what is useful in divergent-thinking theory and practice from what is not. It shows that divergent-thinking training can be valuable, although often not for the reasons trainers think it works. And it offers specific suggestions about the kinds of creativity research most needed today.


Unlike some topics in psychology, little explanation is needed for having an interest in creativity. Everyone has at one time or another marveled at the human ability to discover and invent new and interesting things and ideas--and, perhaps, at the equally human failure sometimes to rise above the quotidian. Most of us have also wished that we could be more creative, in our work and in our play. And all of us have on occasion proposed armchair theories and listened to others' ideas about what makes a person "creative," hoping thereby to gain some understanding of this most wonderful mystery.

This book is about the last question, what it takes to be "creative." As the quotation marks suggest, I have trouble using the word without making some caveat; as will be explained in the book, my research has suggested that there is a problem with stating the question this way, in such general terms. But the nature of creativity--more specifically, the nature of creative thinking, and how a general theory such as divergent thinking can help us understand creative performance in a variety of contexts--is nonetheless what this book is about.


This book grew out of research conducted at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The research reported in chapters 4 and 5 was supported under a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, a Rutgers Graduate Scholars Award, and a Rutgers Excellence Fellowship; some of this research was previously reported in the Creativity Research Journal (Baer, 1991, pp. 23-40) and in the Berlyne Prize address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (Baer, 1992). Preparation of this volume was supported, in part, by a grant from the Educational Testing Service. I thank the NSF, Rutgers, the Creativity Research Journal, the Berlyne Prize committee, and the ETS for their support that, in a variety of ways, made this book possible.

The people who helped me develop the ideas reported in this volume, and who helped shape the research that tested those ideas, predate my work as a psychologist. A partial list would include, first, my parents, Janice Baer and John Baer (Sr.), who taught me in different ways the importance of creativity, and who have encouraged my efforts to understand it; Sarita and Fred Kuhner, who have always been supportive of my work; many friends, students, and colleagues who have stimulated ideas and discussions over the years; Mark Runco, the editor of . . .

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