Postformal Thinking and Creativity among Late Adolescents: A Post-Piagetian Approach

By Wu, Pai-Lu; Chiou, Wen-Bin | Adolescence, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Postformal Thinking and Creativity among Late Adolescents: A Post-Piagetian Approach


Wu, Pai-Lu, Chiou, Wen-Bin, Adolescence


Most studies on creativity have originated in personality and educational psychology, whereas the relationship between cognitive development and creativity has received little attention. Few studies about creative people have focused on individual cognitive development.

Two major approaches have been used to study creativity. The psychological measurement approach considers creativity as an individual ability that may be conceptualized with descriptive theories. This approach mainly evaluates individual differences in creativity and creative performance. The other approach focuses on describing the creative process, with the aim of understanding the internal processes of creativity. However, it fails to address developmental changes in creativity. Lacking an ontological genesis for creativity, studies in the cultivation of creativity have found only the necessary factors. Thus, studies based on these two approaches may offer examples of highly creative people and discuss their characteristics or describe their major thought processes. However, a better understanding of the factors involved in creativity requires a developmental approach that considers the origins of creative development (Ross, 1977).

Understanding how cognitive development affects creative functioning is central to the developmental study of creativity. A post-Piagetian perspective on cognitive development in late adolescence suggests that the epistemic level of late adolescence develops from Piaget's (1980) final cognitive developmental stage (formal operations), leading to postformal thinking (Arlin, 1984; Koplowitz, 1984; Kramer & Woodruff, 1986; Perry, 1970; Rybash & Roodin, 1989). Results of tests of this theoretical proposal have been consistent with this view (Chiou, in press; Kahlbaugh & Kramer, 1995; Kramer & Melchior, 1990; Kramer, Kahlbaugh, & Goldston, 1992; Sebby & Papini, 1994). Kramer (1983) proposed three themes running through postformal thinking: (a) awareness of the relativistic nature of knowledge, (b) acceptance of contradiction, and (c) integration of contradiction into the dialectical whole. Thus, "postformal" thinking is considered to be relativistic and dialectical in nature.

In this study, we considered the development of postformal thinking at one particular point in life--late adolescence--and its relationship to creative growth. In particular, we investigated the ways in which postformal thinking development in late adolescence might facilitate creative performance.

The Essence of Creativity

Although creativity has yet to be defined, researchers considering the phenomenon from different perspectives commonly agree on a number of characteristics of the creative process and creative work products. The first characteristic is novelty, and most definitions of creativity start here. Being novel, atypical, or unusual are the dimensions most frequently measured on creativity tests (Guilford, 1967; Torrance, 1962).

Another dimension of creative performance is value. In addition to being unusual, the creative response needs to fulfill criteria of usefulness and effectiveness in problem solving. The value dimension stresses quality in the creative response. For example, to the three dimensions of flexibility, fluency, and originality suggested by Guilford (1967), Torrance (1962) added elaboration, which is essentially value. Both elaboration and value stress that creative response measure merits cannot be limited to quantity, but must also include quality (see Amabile, 1983, and Rothenberg and Hausman, 1976, for a related idea).

Relationship between Postformal Thinking and Creativity

Formal or postformal thinking are two possible modes of cognitive development in the developmental stages of late adolescence (Kahlbaugh & Kramer, 1995; Kramer et al., 1992). Formal thinking allows the late adolescent to manipulate logical relationships among abstract propositions, think about logically possible states of affairs, and use the experimental method to test hypotheses (Benack, 1984; Labouvie-Vief, 1982). …

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