Over the last 20 years, fictional writing produced by young people has become less creative, more linear and less likely to contain magical elements, a new study reports.
On the flip side, the study also found that adolescent visual artworks have become more complex and sophisticated.
The findings, published in Creativity Research Journal, add to growing evidence that creativity is declining among U.S. students who are schooled to score well on standardized tests instead of thinking outside the box.
"With respect to writing, it's hard not to focus on the way the educational system has changed over the last 20 years, particularly the advent of No Child Left Behind that has really emphasized teaching to the test," said Katie Davis, an expert on human development and education who studies how digital media affects young people at the University of Washington.
"Emphasis on the five-paragraph essay and linear structures has not left a lot of room for risk-taking," she added. "Encouraging any sort of creative expression is very hard to do in the current era of high-stakes testing."
Imagination and creativity are essential for fueling innovation and unorthodox problem-solving strategies in business, culture, even sports. But while scientists have spent more than 100 years refining tools for measuring intelligence, said Jonathan Plucker, an educational psychologist at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, an intense focus on understanding creativity began in earnest just 15 or 20 years ago.
One reason for the neglect is that creativity is harder to study. It can’t be assessed with multiple-choice questionnaires and instead requires time-consuming (and therefore expensive) reviews of people’s ability to solve problems.
The currently accepted gold standard for creativity assessment is the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which asks test-takers to do things like come up with unusual uses for ballpoint pens and other common objects. Since 1990, a study published in 2010 found, scores on the test have been steadily declining in the United States. That news led to headlines and concerns about the nation's "creativity crisis."