Creativity is not a one-size-fits-all kind of trait. As author and artist David. B. Goldstein, who wrote "Creative You: Using Your Personality Type To Thrive," recently told HuffPost, "there's more than one way to be creative -- everyone is creative and can be creative in their own way."
But while creativity itself is limitless, a new study in the journal Behavior Research Methods shows that a simple word-association test is accurately able to measure the level of creativity in a person. (Scroll down to take a version of the test.)
The test was developed by Michigan State University neuroscientist Jeremy Gray, and involves saying a verb in response to a noun. For instance, if the noun is "chair," a person may choose to say the verb "sit" in response -- a decidedly uncreative response -- or he or she may choose to say the verb "stand" -- a more creative answer, in the context that a person may stand on a chair to change a lightbulb.
A verb's creativity level is determined by gauging its unusualness, which researchers figured out by using a statistical technique called latent semantic analysis. The analysis involves taking a chunk of "English language text and statistically [determining] how substitutable one word is for another," Gray explained to HuffPost.
He and his team of researchers, who have affiliations with Yale University, Georgetown University and the National Institute of Mental Health, found that the test is an accurate gauge of creativity by cross-referencing the results of the test with more robust tests of creativity. They found that the test was even able to be conducted when a person is in a functional MRI machine -- meaning they are able to look at what's going on in the brain while a person is in the act of being creative, which is useful for future research.
While Gray acknowledged that other tests of creativity can also be done in an MRI -- for instance, a test where you have one minute to name nine potential uses for a brick -- this word association test allows for a more precise look at the exact moment a brain is being creative.
"If you give people a minute and say, 'Think of as many uses for a brick [as you can]' over the course of a minute, you don't know [the points] where they're drawing a blank or coming up with something useful," Gray explained to HuffPost. But if you give someone a noun "and the task is to say a verb, it's only a few seconds" to complete the task.
Gray said that right now, the biggest implication of the study is that this test can be a useful tool for gauging the success of creativity interventions, and can also help scientists better understand what's going on in the brain when a person is being creative (per its ability to be used in an fMRI machine). But in the future, it could potentially be used in schools and businesses to measure creativity of students and future employees. However, he noted tweaks would have to be made, since people of different ages and living in different parts of the country or world are exposed to different words. (For instance, a verb that may seem creative to an adult may not actually be that creative in the context of a sixth-grader, who is exposed to different linguistic groups than older people.)
Curious about your own creativity? Gray created a demo version of his test for HuffPost that you can take below:
DISCLAIMER: This demo is for illustrative purposes only and has not been scientifically validated. It it is meant to convey some sense of the actual experiment, but is different in many ways from the task used in the actual study.
1. For each of the following four nouns, say a verb out loud. Don't just think it to yourself.
2. Be sure to say a verb, not just any word, and try to say a verb that is creative in some way. It can be any form of a verb, such as "live," "living," "lived," etc.
3. Go through one noun at a time without looking over the list first. Ideally, a friend can administer the test to you, reading each word in turn and giving you a chance to respond before going on to the next word.
4. Try not to spend longer than five or six seconds on each word.
Ready? Here are the words:
Give yourself the corresponding points if you said any of the following verbs in response to the noun. A higher point score is an indicator of greater creativity (the highest number of points you can get is 19).
Drive - 0 points
Walk - 3 points
Brake - 3 points
Swerve - 3 points
Travel - 4 points
Build - 4 points
Crash - 4 points
Curve - 5 points
Explore - 5 points
Play - 0 points
Beat - 2 points
Vibrate - 2 points
Hit - 3 points
Bang - 3 points
Pound - 4 points
Resonate - 4 points
Eat - 0 points
Cook - 2 points
Boil - 3 points
Wash - 3 points
Make - 3 points
Sip - 3 points
Warm - 3 points
Blow - 4 points
Drink - 4 points
Prepare - 4 points
Burn - 4 points
Blend - 5 points
Slurp - 5 points
Wash - 0 points
Lather - 2 points
Clean - 2 points
Cleanse - 2 points
Bathe - 3 points
Make - 4 points
Dispense - 4 points
Swallow - 5 points
Eat - 5 points
If the word you said was not a verb, or you spent longer than 10 seconds thinking of the verb, count that word as earning 0 points. If you say a word that is a plausible verb but is not on the list above, count it as 5 points (if you came up with a 5-point word not on the list for the word "drum," the highest score you can now get is 20). It does not have to be a practical verb (note that "eat" for soap is considered fine, and is assigned a high point value).
What is the logic behind the scoring? Gray explains:
The verb 'eat' earns no points for the noun 'soup,' but 5 points for the noun 'soap.' So it's not the verb per se, but about the unusualness of the particular verb in the context of the particular noun.
Creativity is hard to define, but almost all researchers [agree] that to be creative, something has to be both novel and appropriate. For the noun-verb task, you have to say a verb, not just any random word. Some words can count as either a noun or a verb, like 'lather.' If a word can be a verb, it earns points, but if there's really no practical way it can be a related verb, it does not earn points.
For soup, sometimes people might say 'spoon,' which could be interpreted as a verb. Note that most people who say spoon would be thinking of the relatively common compound noun 'soup spoon,' rather than the verb 'to spoon,' especially if their response was very quick.