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Is Creativity Declining Among Young Americans? Visual Art and Writing Examined

First Posted: Nov 16, 2013 09:41 AM EST

Are young Americans losing their creativity? Research in recent years has suggested just that, seeming to show that they're less creative now in decades past--despite the fact that intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, continues to rise. Now, though, researchers have discovered that the dynamics of creativity may not break down as simply as that.

In order to get a better sense of creativity, the researchers closely studied 20 years of student creative writing and visual artwork. More specifically, they looked at 354 samples of visual art and 50 samples of creative writing created by teenagers and then published between 1990 and 2011. The scientists examined how the style, content and form of the art-making and creative writing changed over the last 20 years.

The review of student visual art showed that there was actually an increase in the sophistication and complexity of the works, both in the design and the subject matter. The pieces appeared more finished and fuller with backgrounds that were more fully rendered. Standard pen-and-ink illustrations also grew less common over the period while a broader range of mix media work was represented.

This wasn't the trend seen in student writing, though. Over the years, young authors seemed to adhere more to conventional writing practices. There was also a trend toward less play with genre, more mundane narratives and simpler language over the two decades.

"There really isn't a standard set of agreed-upon criteria to measure something as complex and subjective as creativity," said Katie Davis, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But there are markers of creativity--like complexity and risk-taking and breaking away from the standard mold-that appear to have changed."

That's not to say that the entire U.S. has seen a decline in literary creativity. More research will be needed before any broad conclusions are drawn. Yet this study does reveal the complexity that rising and falling creativity is part of. 

"Because society--indeed any society--depends on the creativity of its citizens to flourish, this is a question that warrants serious attention in future creativity research," said Davis in a news release.

The findings will be published in the Creativity Research Journal in January 2014.

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