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    A mixed methods analysis of how executive control processes contribute, positively and negatively, to children’s creativity

    Rogers, Catherine Jane (2021) A mixed methods analysis of how executive control processes contribute, positively and negatively, to children’s creativity. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Creativity is one of humanity’s most important assets. Training it in children is seen as a crucial component of ‘21stcentury skills. ’Executive control (EC)comprises a suite of processes shown to improve life chances, from educational attainment to greater health and wealth. This thesis explores the relationship between these two key capabilities, specifically addressing the question of whether training children in EC reduces their creativity. The first study was a cross-sectional, quantitative investigation of the development of creativity and EC in 45children aged 5-11 years. Findings showed that while EC measures improved, most creativity measures did not, surprising given expected developmental trajectories for complex cognition. The second, qualitative study involved a subset of the same children and used stimulated recall interviews to elicit descriptions of their mental processes while completing a creativity activity at home. Their verbal reports suggested wide variation in how they deployed EC in their creativity, with differences in the levels of spontaneous(EC independent)and control (EC dependent) processes and in the flexibility to modulate between them. Triangulation of findings showed that greater spontaneity tended to be positively associated with creativity, while extremes of control were negatively associated-the first suggestion that better EC might have negative side effects. The second set of studies moved from correlation to study causation. A large nested school-based intervention involving 156 children, was designed to train and improve EC in children aged 8-10. Children were randomized by class to the EC group or a matched, active control group and were tested on EC and creativity measures before and after training. The intervention brought about EC improvements in both EC training and control classes, with EC performance improving similarly and significantly in both. The transfer effects to creative performance, also similar across groups, were mixed; while fluency improved, originality declined. After training to improve EC, children produced more, worse ideas. The final studies investigated training effects qualitatively, with a subset of children involved in the intervention. This time, they all completed the same activity (as each other and as used in pre and post intervention assessments) to stimulate recall of their thought process while creating. Their qualitative reports formed the basis for defining creative sub types, based on differing cognitive approaches. Triangulation analysis investigated whether the qualitative assessment of the relative degree of control, spontaneity, and flexibility that children deployed in their creativity associated with their performance in quantitative tests. Were there, in short, better or worse ways of ‘doing creativity’? Flexibility emerged as a key ingredient to creative success –with more flexible children seeing greater fluency gains after training and less substantial originality losses. The discussion addresses the question of whether, in our enthusiasm to promote EC training, insufficient consideration has been given to its possible side effects, specifically in demoting original creative thinking. It broadens out to look at the relevance of the current research to education, aligning findings here with an existing conflict between performativity and creativity. Finally, suggestions are made for how to effectively teach children so that their creativity, as well as their EC, can thrive.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2021 17:46
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 15:01


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