Five Year-Olds Just Don’t Get No Respect

But Perhaps They Should

In 1968, George Land conducted a research study to test the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old who were enrolled in a Head Start program. This was the same creativity test he devised for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. The assessment worked so well he decided to try it on children. He re-tested the same children at 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age. The results were astounding. __

The proportion of people who scored at the “Genius Level”, were:

amongst 5 year olds: 98%
amongst 10 year olds: 30%
amongst 15 year olds: 12%
Same test given to 280,000 adults (average age of 31): 2%

According to Land, the primary reason for this is that there are two types of thinking processes when it comes to creativity:

Convergent thinking: where you judge ideas, criticise them, refine them, combine them and improve them, all of which happens in your conscious thought
Divergent thinking: where you imagine new ideas, original ones which are different from what has come before but which may be rough to start with, and which often happens subconsciously

He notes that throughout school, we are teaching children to try and use both kinds of thinking at the same time, which is impossible.

Competing neurons in the brain will be fighting each other, and it is as if your mind is having a shouting match with itself. __

Around the 6 minute mark in the video above, researcher George Land describes testing 5 year olds for creativity, then following them for 10 years to discover the “trajectory of creativity” in these same children over time.

Children and youth may be taught many things in school, but in general creativity seems not to be one of them. Just the opposite.

This is an ominous finding, given that the problems of the near and intermediate future are not likely to be solved by the same techniques that created the problems of today — to paraphrase Einstein. Creative problem solvers are desperately in need, while school systems seem intent on creating conformists and brainwashed drones who become offended or violent on command.

Still, it is possible to encourage the learning of creativity by various means. If children and youth (and even adults) are given a few tips to tilt them toward habits of creative thinking, future societies may be thrown a lifeline.

One time tested approach to creativity training is the book “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono. Link to Amazon

The logical part of our brains can help us to develop creative ideas, after the fact. But truly innovative products of “divergent thinking” or “lateral thinking” are escapees from the logical thinking box. They surprise and delight us because they work, and because without the benefit of hindsight there is no logical reason why they should work.

It seems to me that it should be easier to teach 5 year olds good habits of creative thinking that will stick with them over time, than it would be to teach grown-ups to think creatively once they have been programmed to think in a linear, unimaginative way. But perhaps I am wrong. I can live with that.

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1 Response to Five Year-Olds Just Don’t Get No Respect

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Two possibilities come to mind. First, creativity, however it is defined here, may be based on the same kind of neuroplasticity that language learning is. The propensity to learn new languages is well-known to decline with age starting in mid-childhood. The second possibility is that it has little to do with neurobiology and that the decline is caused exclusively by our school system. I will have to keep this second possibility in mind the next time the school levy bond issue comes up for a vote.

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