(How) is adult play/creativity different? (from childhood creativity) -RM
I’d like to only talk about play.
However, play and creativity are linked not only in my research, but in how they contribute to human development.
And this is about and led by a creative process.
In her paper ‘Play and Creativity: developmental issues’ Sandra W. Russ addressed the relationship between play and creativity from a developmental point of view. Viewing child’s play as pretending to ‘be’, this type of pretend play informs the development of cognitive process which are in turn important to the development of creative acts -creativity. (Russ 2003) Central to both play and creativity is divergent thinking. (Russ p. 291) Psychologists define divergent thinking as an approach to solving problems through the testing of a theoretically limitless number of possible solutions in order to find the best one. In creative process the benefit of divergent thinking is that the meandering nature, rather than the straight path of testing a finite number of solutions that is associated with convergent thinking, allows for new ideas to emerge. This is the type of thinking that children do when engaging in pretend play, and it is through play that in children the ability to think divergently is facilitated. The question Russ asked is to whether play facilitates creativity.
Over the course of my education as an artist participating in and observing my colleagues present their work, the product of their creative process, for critical feedback a common refrain is to ‘play with it’. Go back into the studio or wherever one engages in his or her creative practice and try out other solutions to the question being asked with or through the work. In this regard the feedback the artist receives is to ‘go play’ with the intention that through play the creative process (creativity) will develop further thus impacting the product in both its novelness and goodness, the factors by which the value of the creativity the work contains is judged. This refrain of play is echoed by artists when describing their approach to their work, how time is spent in the studio, and/or how the work originates.
Yet, play and creativity, though linked, are different, hence Russ’ question on how and if one might facilitate the other. In her research she cites studies showing the play skills of children can be improved upon. Does this improvement in turn improve upon the creativity of the child? In the paper Russ proposed as a focus for future studies on play and creativity the following two of three points: (i) investigate specific mechanisms that account for the relationship between play and creativity; (ii) develop play intervention techniques that improve play skills. (Russ p. 291)
Russ cites the research of Krasnor & Pepler (1980) in which they presented three views of the relationship between play and developmental skills. The third view is the one which Russ addresses, play as a causal agent in developmental change, as it impacts most directly the question of whether play process facilitate creative process or simply reflect these [shared] process? (Russ p. 292)
Returning to the question RM asked, how is adult play/creativity different from that of children, Russ cites Wallas’ (1926) statement for a truly creative product of a creative process to be produced the producer must have a wide knowledge base of the field, mastered the old ideas in order to incorporate new ones. With this criteria, children are at a natural disadvantage. (Russ p. 292) However, this does not make children less creative, just creative in different ways from adults, including in how they play.
Prior to this study Russ published research in 1993 and 1996 reviewing the existing literature on the relationship between pretend play and the development of creativity; noting the overlap in cognitive and affective process occurring in each. In the first study, Russ (1993) identified the two affective processes important to creativity as access to affect-laden thought and the ability to experience affect states, in other words the ability to express affect in fantasy and experience emotion, both important to how children play. Russ’ citation of Waelder (1933) view of play as a place where primary process thinking can occur and Morrison’s (1988) conceptualization of play as the place in which children can reconstruct past experiences and rework old metaphors [apply memory and existing knowledge they possess] as each pertain to her 1996 research expressing primary process thought as affect-laden and the development of divergent thinking are important to the development of the tool which is the focus of my research as each expresses [how] the expansion through skills associated with play might bring to the creative process. Russ cites Singer & Singer (1990) observation that play facilitates divergent thinking in children through practice by, in addition to using toys and objects to represent different things, role playing scenarios. (Russ p. 293)
Russ states, that although there are numerous studies on the relationship between play and creativity and the role of divergent thinking therein, the majority have been focused on the cognitive process rather than the affective process found in play. The reason for this appears to be due to the measures of play being used to assess the cognitive rather than the affective. Therefore Russ (1993, 20020 developed the Affect in Play Scale (APS) as a means to fulfill the need for a tool to standardised measure affect in pretend play; a scale appropriate for measuring in children ages 6 -10 years. (Russ p. 293) Relating the findings of the APS to other scales measuring divergent thinking and primary process thinking Russ found that affect in play did relate to significantly and positively to creativity and divergent thinking. (Russ p. 293) No significant difference was reported in terms of IQ measurements or gender, however important was the correspondence to the results on the Rorschach test measuring primary process thinking, which showed relation between more affect-laden primary process and higher fantasy in the APS. These results were replicated in other tests of children in Grade 1 and Grade 2 as well as in preschool (4 -5 year old) children; showing that even with the younger children there is a relationship between affect in play and creativity. (Russ p. 294)
Russ cites numerous studies where both divergent thinking and creative processes are deemed stable over time, the extent of each in regards to the individual remaining unchanged over time. (Russ p. 294) The creative, divergent thinking child remains so as an adult.
If this is so then why the constant refrain in critiques to ‘go play’? The assumption being that as artists we are creative and divergent thinkers. Yet the need to be told to ‘go play’ persists.
If creativity, the ability to think divergently, does not decline over time, can they be increased?
Russ (1999) retested the Grade 1 and Grade 2 children in Grade 5 and Grade 6. In the original test the children were given puppets to play with, in the follow up instructed to put on a play following the same basic task. The results did show a stability in the scores across the years; with the interesting revelation that the affect showed an increase in frequency and variety which was not present between the preschool and elementary school children whose difference in age was similar in span. (Russ p. 295) This could be related to the task itself calling for more affect in the telling of stories in a play as opposed to with puppets. Or it could relate to the younger children being tested individually while the older children were tested in a group. The findings did not predict real-life creativity or storytelling creativity, but the reasons for this remain unclear. (Russ p. 295) Retesting the same group again in Grades 11 and 12 using adult tests revealed similar results to the Grades 5 and 6 testing. Important is that the findings show the relationship between play and creativity is stable over time, but there is no evidence that play facilitate divergent thinking (in this sample). (Russ p. 296)
There is evidence that play facilitates creativity through insight. Russ cites research by Sylva et al [Bruner was a part of this group] (1976) showing the correlation between play in children age 3 - 5 and problem solving tasks. (Russ p. 296) Divided into three groups, the first group was given objects to play with while the second group observed the play. The third group was the control, neither playing with or observing the play. Later all the groups were asked to solve a problem using the objects. The group that had played with the objects were most able to solve the problem, and the observation group performed better than the control group. The experiment was refined by Vandenberg (1978) and conducted with an older and larger age range [4 -10 year olds]. In two groups, the one group played with the materials while the control group was asked questions about the materials. Both were given hints to the solution. [Scaffolding?]. The best results were from 6 -7 year olds who played with the materials, leading Vandenberg (1980) to conclude that the relationship between play and insightful tool use was mediated by age and task characteristics and enhanced motivated task activity. (Russ p. 296-97)
Vandenberg pointed up the similarity between play and creativity. In both play and creativity, one is creating novelty from the commonplace and has a disregard for the familiar. (Russ p. 297)
Studies from Dansky and Silverman (1973, 1980) reveal that play does facilitate divergent thinking; when given an object to play with children come up with more uses for the object than control groups who did not play with the object. In 1980 Dansky report that the mediator between play and divergent thinking appeared to be pretend play, free play only facilitated divergent thinking in children who incorporated make-believe into the play. (Russ p. 297) While these studies are in general important for revealing the direct effect of play on divergent thinking, they are of particular interest to my research for their revelation of the role of pretend play. [Dansky experiments received criticism for experimenter bias, which was itself later questioned.]
It is not a matter of going into the studio ‘to play’, rather it becomes a question of how one plays when he or she goes into the studio. The refrain ‘go play’ is less beneficial to the adult artist who might lack the tools possessed by the child in pretend play.
Dansky (1980) hypothesis was that the free symbolic transformations inherent in pretend play helped create a temporary cognitive set toward the loosening of old associations. (Russ p. 297)
Russ raised the question if the expression of affect in play can have an immediate effect on creativity. (Russ p. 298) Studies in children did not conclude that positive or negative affect impacted creativity; although a study by Isen et al. (1987) showed a correspondence between positive affect and creativity in adults. (Russ p. 298)
Russ asked if we can teach children to improve their play skills. (Russ p. 298) I am asking the same of artists. Citing studies beginning with Smilansky (1968) Russ shows that play training with children has shown to be effective. Though the methodological problems, particularly in terms of control groups, have been identified in the various studies which show a need for further research. While this is a problem, Russ did conclude: Research studies suggest that play does facilitate creativity. Further, Russ agrees with Dansky assessment that despite the methodological flaws of some of the studies, a significant number were rigorous in their research design. (Russ p. 300)
Russ’ research as well as that which she cites focuses on play and creativity in children. Returning to the question, how is adult play/creativity different than in that of children I still need to answer. However, I believe the theoretical reasoning for a difference between play and creativity in children and adults will be found in the developmental psychology research conducted by Vygotsky and others in the mid 1920s to mid 1930s. Wallas’ (1926) statement for a truly creative product of a creative process to be produced the producer must have a wide knowledge base of the field, mastered the old ideas in order to incorporate new ones, while viewed here as the disadvantage of the child who lacks the wide knowledge base needed to produce novel and good works, can also be flipped to be understood as the disadvantage of the adult, professional artist, whose wide base of knowledge can become a hinderance in the studio without the skills of pretend play possessed by the child.
Sandra W. Russ (2003) Play and Creativity: Developmental issues, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47:3, 291-303