According to a 2010 study of 300,000 creativity tests spanning the last 30+ years, Kyung Hee Kim (a researcher at the College of William and Mary) found that American children have become less creative in recent years. From 1990 to 2010, children have shown less ability to produce unique and unusual ideas. According to Kim, they also possess less humor, less imagination and less ability to elaborate on ideas.
Ron Beghetto, an education psychologist at the University of Oregon said “It’s not that creativity can necessarily disappear, but it can be suppressed in particular contexts.” He elaborated that the focus on testing schools (with the idea that each question has only one correct answer) may be inhibiting the creative development of children.
Sandra Russ, a psychologist at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio (who was not involved in Kim’s study), expressed that kids nurture their creative abilities when they “pretend.” She expressed a concern that the modern child’s overbooked schedule may leave less time for pretend play.
While Kim analyzed results from the Torrance test in her study, a test that measures divergent thinking, Russ looked at studies of her own (dating back to 1985)which involved asking children to make up a story using two puppets. The stories were then rated on the number, novelty and emotional content of the ideas. The studies showed an increase in imaginative play from 1985 to 2008.
Russ feels that the studies point to the resilience of children, finding ways to develop new ways to develop creative abilities (such as playing video games that encourage creative problem solving).
Beghetto said that students try to match what they think the teacher wants to hear in the hope of being ‘successful’ in school.” As a result, “out-of-the-box” thinking does not get rewarded. To help raise the creativity of modern children, teachers should recognize that unexpected answers may still lead to meaningful conversation and learning in a classroom, he said.