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What can we know about the creative potentials of teachers and students? What can we hope for in terms of the cultivation of creativity?

The value of creativity in human life has always been embraced, with increasing attention also being paid to its cultivation in younger generations in contemporary societies. Nonetheless, creativity is a notoriously elusive and evasive concept for the scientific community. The validity of a well-conceptualized tool for assessing creative potential remains a concern. With such shadows in the background, it is noteworthy that creativity research has continued to be an active field in recent decades. This study is rooted in our curiosity about the creative potentials of teachers and students in contemporary China. The interesting scoring patterns and individual profiles revealed by this study provide the momentum for deeper reflections on the nature of creativity, the selection and refinement of an assessment tool, and the possibilities for creativity education.

The Conceptualization And Assessment of Creativity

A wide variety of approaches have been applied to the investigation of creativity, which have focused on the person, the process, the product, and the press, respectively. Researchers have also been careful to differentiate creativity into the eminent and everyday types, to which Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) later added the professional and intrapersonal types. The productivity in research on creativity, however, has appeared to blur the field's vision of the essence of creativity. The only consensus among contemporary researchers in defining creativity, a topic frequently discussed in the literature, is anchored in the two criteria of originality and appropriateness (see, for instance, Runco, 2004; Runco & Jaeger, 2012; Sternberg & Lubart, 1999). Appropriateness, as a criterion formulated to qualify an original activity or product as creative, does not in itself constitute a defining characteristic of creativity. It is well known to psychologists that originality does not come from nowhere. A criterion that merely highlights a judgment about originality tells us little about the underlying psychological processes that constitute the core features of creativity.

The pioneers of research in this area have proposed some clearer conceptualizations of creativity. Guilford (1950), in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association, attempted to define creativity in its narrow and broad senses. In the former sense, creativity refers to a number of abilities that include "sensitivity to problems, ideational fluency, flexibility of set, ideational novelty, synthesizing ability, analyzing ability, reorganizing or redefining ability, span of ideational structure, and evaluating ability" (Guilford, 1950, p. 454). While he placed emphasis on these requisite abilities, Guilford was also aware of the role of "motivational and temperamental traits" in producing creative results. In a broad sense, the problem of creativity is concerned with "the [personal] qualities that contribute significantly to creative productivity" (Guilford, 1950, p. 444). The Creativity Tests for Children that Guilford subsequently constructed (1971/1976) are not closely linked to his conceptualization. Rather, they are concerned with divergent production across the numerous areas of his structural model of intelligence, which are constituted by four types of content (figural, symbolic, semantic, and behavioral) multiplied by six categories of product (units, classes, relations, systems, transformation, and implications). In retrospect, it is evident that the major criteria of the widely used Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) (Torrance, 1966/1999), which include fluency, flexibility, and originality in both of the verbal and figural tests, are derived from Guilford's conceptualization of creativity abilities. In contrast to Guilford, Mednick (1962), another pioneer of creativity research, defined the construct in a very different way. He captured the essence of creativity in the associative basis of the thinking process. In his thesis, he stated that "the more mutually remote the elements of the new combination, the more creative the process or solution" (Mednick, 1962, p. 221). Consistent with this conceptualization, he constructed the Remote Associates Test (RAT) (Mednick, 1967).

The "Mid-life Crisis" of Creativity Assessment And New Conceptualizations of Creativity

In a review paper published in 1995, Houtz and Krug aptly pinpoint the existence of a kind of mid-life crisis in the assessment of creativity. For several decades the most popular measures of creativity were the TTCT (Torrance, 1966/1999) and the Wallach-Kogan Creativity Tests (WKCT; Wallach & Kogan, 1965), both of which strongly apply criteria that reflect divergent responses. Alongside this, researchers have become increasingly dissatisfied with the characterization of creativity simply as divergent thinking (see Runco, 2008). This sense of crisis becomes easier to understand when placed in the context of new conceptualizations of creativity, which include Amabile's (1983) social psychological approach, Sternberg and Lubart's (1991) confluence theory that borrows the metaphor of investment, and Csikszentmihalyi's (1999) system perspective. All of these new conceptualizations aim to explain creativity in a manner that is possibly more comprehensive by capturing its complex and interactive nature. It should be noted, however, that these approaches seek to define the factors contributing to creative performance rather than the core features of creativity. The development of a new creativity test based on these new conceptualizations is by no means a straightforward task. In a more recent review, Kim (2006) sought to reaffirm the psychometric strength of the figural form of the TTCT through a discussion of its reliability and validity. Most recently, a heated debate on the validity and relevance of the TTCT has taken place between Kim (2011a, 2011b) and Baer (2011a, 2011b) in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. Based on a close examination of a 40-year longitudinal study of the TTCT (Torrance, 2002), we hold the view that the nature and the limitation of the proclaimed predictive validity of the test should be noted. In essence, the criteria of adult creative achievement measured after 40 years in this study have been based on a self-report questionnaire that captured the number of publicly recognized creative achievements (addressed as the quantitative aspect). This approach was further supplemented by the ratings from three experts on the number and quality of those self-reported achievements (addressed as the qualitative aspect). In other words, the predictive validity of this divergent thinking test has been assessed using self-reported, real-life divergent productions in diverse fields as criteria.

The Test for Creative Thinking--Drawing Production (TCT-DP)

In the same year that the mid-life crisis of creativity assessment was proclaimed, the manual for a new creativity test, the "Test zum schopferishen Denken--Zeichnerisch" (TSD-Z), was published in German (Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). A year later, an English version was published, with the name of the test translated as "Test for Creative Thinking--Drawing Production" (TCT-DP). In the Zeitgeist characterized by the new conceptualizations of creativity and dissatisfactions with existing tests of divergent thinking, this assessment tool first took shape over the period 1984-1986. The publication of a detailed test manual represents the culmination of a series of dedicated works that included large-scale norming studies in Germany, Australia, Hungary, and Poland, as well as a cross-cultural study involving 11 countries (see Jellen & Urban, 1989; Urban, 1991, Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). The construction of this test was evidently a conscious attempt to capture the complexity of creativity using a holistic and gestalt-oriented approach. Essentially, creative potential is assessed by the quality of image production, the testee being given six figural fragments and asked to use them to complete a drawing. Specifically, this assessment employs a set of comprehensive criteria that fall into the two broad categories of cognitive processes and personality traits, which are congruent with Urban's (1994, 2004) componential model of creativity. Examples of criteria that reflect the cognitive component include New elements, Connection made with lines, Connection made to produce a theme, and Perspective, among others. The personality component is typically exemplified by criteria such as Boundary breaking and Unconventionality.

The psychometric properties of the test, including internal consistency, inter-rater reliability, test-retest reliability, convergent and discriminant validity, and criterion validity, have been reported as satisfactory (see Dollinger, Urban, & James, 2004; Rudowicz, 2004; Urban, 2004; Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). Given the nature of the test, its potential applicability to a great variety of age groups and cultures appears to be an obvious strength. While the TCT-DP is increasingly recognized by researchers as promising (e.g., A.J. Cropley, 2000; Davis, 1995), it is also important to bear in mind that it can, at best, assess people's creative potential and not their authentic creative performance.


As a precursor to the cultivation of creativity, it is desirable to understand the realities of students' and teachers' creative potentials. Although the development of creativity in childhood and adolescence has always been a key concern of researchers (see Runco & Charles, 1997; Torrance & Haensly, 2003), an exploration into the creative potentials of teachers is rare. Research endeavors related to teachers have mainly been concerned with the teachers' conceptions of creativity (e.g., Chan & Chan, 1999; Runco & Johnson, 2002; Zhou, Shen, Wang, Neber, & Johji, 2013). What can we know about the creative potentials of both teachers and students? To address this epistemological and empirical question, we need to find an adequate assessment tool that is based on a sound conceptualization of creativity. In the present study, we take an initial step toward this goal by using the TCT-DP to explore the creative potentials of teachers and students in mainland China and then assess the implications of our findings for creativity education.



Teacher Sample. The teacher sample (N = 618, male = 252, female = 360, unreported gender = 6) was drawn from secondary schools in the Guangdong and Hebei provinces, which are located in the southern and northern parts of mainland China, respectively. The teachers varied in age (range = 20-60 years, mean age = 34.68, SD = 7.30) and educational level (diploma, undergraduate, and postgraduate) but all worked in schools with average academic standards in one of three cities (two in Guangdong and one in Hebei). All teachers took part on a voluntary basis after responding to an invitation to participate in a teacher development project. These teachers were asked to complete a drawing task using the TCT-DP. They completed this task without time constraints during their free time or during a teacher development course.

Student Sample. (1) The student sample (N = 631, males = 332, females = 295, unreported gender = 4; age range = 12-19 years; mean age = 14.99 years, SD = 1.58) was made up of adolescents from the senior section of one secondary school in a city in the Hebei province and adolescents from the junior section of another secondary school in the same city. The senior participants of School A (n = 301) were drawn from two levels that corresponded to grades 10 and 11 in the U.S. (mean age = 16.29 years, SD = 0.85), and the junior participants of School B (n = 330) were at a point of their studies that was equivalent to grades 7 and 9 in the U.S. (mean age = 13.82 years, SD = 1.10). Teachers from these two schools also participated in the study. Students from both schools shared similar backgrounds in terms of the average academic standards of their institutions and average family socioeconomic condition in the context of the city in which they lived. All students participated on a voluntary basis; they responded to an invitation to participate in a student development project. They completed the drawing task using the TCT-DP in their free time without time constraints.


To assess the creative potentials of Chinese teachers and students, this study adopted the TCT-DP, which is recognized as a gestalt-oriented, culturally fair, and economical instrument. The instruction to complete a piece of drawing left unfinished by an artist was translated into Chinese using the back-translation process. Forms A and B of the TCT-DP both contain six figural fragments, five of which (a semicircle, a small dot, a right angle, a curved line, and a short broken line) are located within a large frame measuring 6.25 square inches. The sixth fragment, a small square with one open side, is situated outside the frame. The only difference between the two forms is that Form B is a 180-degree inversion of Form A. Form A was used in this study.

Creative potential was scored using the 11 criteria set out in the TCT-DP manual (Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010), which are as follows: (1) Continuations (Cn) denotes any use or extension of the six fragments; (2) Completions (Cm) involves any additions to the six continuations; (3) New elements (Ne) refers to any new figures or symbols; (4) Connections made with a line (Cl) denotes physical linkages between any two continued or completed fragment(s) and/or new element(s); (5) Connections made to produce a theme (Cth) involves any element or figure that contributes to a compositional theme; (6) Boundary breaking [Fragment-dependent] (Bfd) denotes the use of the small open square located outside the large frame; (7) Boundary breaking [Fragment-independent] (Bfi) denotes nonaccidental drawing outside of the frame, other than the use of the small open square; (8) Perspective (Pe) involves a three-dimensional compositional whole or elements; (9) Humor and affectivity (Hu) involves a drawing that creates a humorous or emotional atmosphere; (10) Unconventionality (Uc) contains four subcategories for (a) manipulations of the material (Uca), (b) surreal or abstract drawings (Ucb), (c) atypical combinations of figures and symbols (Ucc), and (d) nonstereotypical use of a certain element (Ucd); and (11) Speed (Sp), where a score is assigned on the basis of the exact time required to complete the drawing. In the present study the time was reported by the participants themselves.

A composite score is obtained by summing the points scored for each of the 11 criteria with no transformation. For each of the first nine criteria, the scoring range is 0-6 points. Each of the four subcategories of criterion (10) (Unconventionality) is scored from 0-3 points. Speed, the last criterion, is only scored if 25 or more points have already been attained across the previous 10 criteria for drawings finished in less than 12 minutes, and the maximum score for this criterion is 6 points. The total possible scoring range of the TCT-DP is therefore 0-72 points, with a higher score indicating greater creative potential.

In previous studies that have been undertaken in European countries, the inter-rater reliability of the TCT-DP was reported to be greater than .90, and its test-retest reliability ranged from .70 to .81 (see A.J. Cropley, 2000; Urban, 2004; Urban & Jellen, 1995/ 2010). Efforts have been made to establish the convergent validity of the TCT-DP. For example, Dollinger, Urban, and James (2004) reported positive and significant correlations between TCT-DP scores and the ratings of a number of measures including the Consensual Assessment Creativity Ratings, autographic individuality, narrative creativity in the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) stories, and the two Adjective Checklist-based creative personality scales that were developed by Domino (1970, 1994) and Gough (1979; Gough & Heilbrun, 1983). The test manual also reports high correlations (up to .82) between German teachers' ratings of their students' creativity and the TCT-DP scores obtained from these students. Moreover, evidence about the discriminant validity of the test has been obtained from studies that demonstrated weak and insignificant correlations between TCT-DP scores and scores on traditional intelligence tests among gifted adolescents (e.g., Brocher, as cited in Urban, 2004; Urban & Jellen, 1986). Other studies have shown that the TCT-DP is capable of identifying people who have demonstrated their creative ability in varied real-life domains (e.g., Jellen & Bugingo, 1989; Scheliga, 1988, as cited in Urban, 2004). Such findings help to establish the criterion validity of this test.


As this is the first time the TCT-DP has been used in mainland China, we carried out a rigorous process of rater training to prepare for the assessment of inter-rater reliability. Intensive training was provided to two raters with the aim of instilling refined interpretations of the TCT-DP manual and example drawings from other datasets. The two raters then independently scored a random sample (n = 201) of the TCT-DP protocols completed by the teacher participants. The inter-rater reliabilities of TCT-DP scores from these two raters were assessed prior to any discussions between them. The scores for this random sample were then finalized after such discussions, and one of the raters then proceeded to score the remaining drawings for both the teacher and student samples. It should be noted that neither rater had any expectations about how the participants of this study would perform in the drawing task.

The analysis then focused on comparing the TCT-DP scores of the teacher and the student samples, which should have implications for the cultivation of creative potential. As the TCT-DP has been claimed by its authors to be a gestalt-oriented instrument (Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010), observations of the gestalts of the drawings were also made with the aim of discovering any meaningful findings that were not properly reflected by the summing of the scores for each criterion of the test.


Inter-rater Reliabilities of the TCT-DP

The inter-rater reliabilities of the TCT-DP were assessed with Cronbach's alphas (as) for 201 cases between the two sets of ratings, which constituted 15.99% of the total sample. This is a kind of consistency estimate whereby the [alpha] value is useful for understanding the extent to which the scores of the raters hold together to measure a common dimension. The a values presented in Table 1 show that the inter-rater reliability of the composite score was high ([alpha] = .991). Additionally, the inter-rater reliabilities for all of the TCT-DP subscale scores were also high, other than for Humor and affectivity ([alpha] = .653). The [alpha]-values for all the other subscales ranged from .799 to 1.000. The less satisfactory inter-rater reliabilities of the Humor and affectivity scores can most likely be attributed to the subjective nature of this criterion.

Comparing the TCT-DP Scores of The Teachers And Students

One of the major purposes of the present study was to understand the creative potentials of Chinese teachers and students by using the TCT-DP as an assessment tool. Table 2 shows the scoring patterns of both groups.

A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed to examine whether there were any significant differences between the teachers and the students in their TCT-DP composite and subscale scores. The overall result revealed a significant difference between the teachers' and the students' TCT-DP scores (Wilks' Lambda = .04, F(1,1237) = 20.51, p < .001). Subsequent univariate analyses further indicated that the students significantly outperformed the teachers in terms of the TCT-DP composite score (t = 82.51 , P < .001) and in 9 out of the 11 subscale scores, including Continuations, Completions, New elements, Connections made with a line, Connections made to produce a theme, Boundary breaking [Fragment-dependent], Boundary breaking [Fragment-independent], Perspective, and Unconventionality (ts [greater than or equal to] 4.00, ps < .05). Despite these differences, it was evident that both samples scored poorly on some criteria (i.e., Humor and affectivity, Perspective, Unconventionality, and Boundary breaking). Additionally, both groups had relatively low composite scores. The Chinese students (N = 631) obtained a mean composite score of 20.76 (SD = 9.74), which is lower than that of a comparable German adolescent sample (aged 11-16, M = 27.6, SD = 9.5, see Urban, 1995/2010), and the Chinese teachers' (N = 618) mean score of 16.16 (SD = 8.04) was even lower.

In two participating schools in the Hebei province, both the teachers and students participated in the present study. Thus, it was possible to carry out a more refined analysis by directly comparing the TCT-DP scores of the teachers and students in the same schools. It should be noted that the student samples from Schools A and B came from the senior and junior sections, respectively. A MANOVA examining the effect of grade on TCT-DP scores showed that the senior secondary school students significantly outperformed those in the junior section (Wilks' Lambda = .79, F(1,619) = 14.98, p < .001). Tables 3 and 4 show the scoring patterns of the teachers and students in Schools A and B, respectively.

As shown in Table 3, School A exhibits a scoring pattern that was very similar to that of the whole sample. The overall result of the MANOVA revealed that the students significantly outperformed the teachers (Wilks' Lambda = .04, F(1,382) = 6.49, p < .001). Subsequent univariate analyses further demonstrated that these senior secondary school students of School A significantly outperformed their teachers in terms of the TCT-DP composite score (t = 56.77, p < .001) and in 7 of the 11 subscale scores (ts > 11.66, ps < .01).

The scoring pattern presented in Table 4 is different from that of the whole sample and that of School A, as mentioned above. A MANOVA examining group differences in TCT-DP scores between the teachers and students in School B revealed a significant difference between the two samples in the overall result (Wilks' Lambda = .08, F (1,358) = 3.54, p < .001). However, subsequent univariate analyses indicated no significant difference in composite score between the teachers and their students in the junior secondary section. The univariate analyses further revealed that significant differences in mean scores were found in only 4 out of the 11 subscales of the TCT-DP, namely Connections made to produce a theme, Perspective, Humor and affectivity, and Speed (ts [greater than or equal to] 4.34, ps < .05), with the teachers scoring higher than their junior grade students in all of these cases.

The scoring of creative thinking among our student sample in mainland China (aged 12-19; M = 20.76, SD = 9.74) is comparable to the results of an adolescent sample in Hong Kong (aged 12-16; M = 21.3, SD = 10.9, see Rudowicz, 2004) but much lower than a German adolescent sample (aged 11-16, M = 27.6, SD = 9.5, see Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). Particularly noteworthy is the low average score of our teacher sample in mainland China (M=16.16, SD = 8.04). This relative scoring pattern of Chinese teachers and students is evidently provocative in considering creativity education. If teachers have less creative potential than their students or, at best, their capacity only slightly exceeds that of their junior grade students, how optimistic can we be about the role of teachers in the cultivation of creativity in these students? Instead of providing hasty answers to this question, we undertook a gestalt-oriented examination of the TCT-DP protocols. This examination further provoked us to reflect upon the nature of creativity and its assessment before proceeding to deliberate on the possibilities for creativity education.

A Hermeneutical Examination of The Gestalts of the TCT-DP Protocols

As the TCT-DP is by its nature a type of test that elicits gestalt-oriented image productions, it is reasonable to suppose that a hermeneutical examination of its protocols will provide valuable messages that cannot be reflected in quantitative statistical analyses of its scores. In the following, we will highlight some interesting observations about the TCT-DP protocols collected from the samples of Chinese students and teachers.

Figure 1 shows four examples drawn by the Chinese student sample. Whereas Pictures A-C share different themes that are all quite typical for Chinese adolescents, Picture D has no theme. Picture A was given a score of 47, which was the highest score of the entire student sample. The male student who submitted it entitled his picture "Einstein thinking inside a house." This neatly drawn picture was completed in 30 minutes (self-reported). The participant manipulated the boundary of the picture to form the frame of a house on which a video camera was set up. Although he achieved the maximum score for seven of the subscales, his total score could not go any higher because he only scored 3 points in one of the four subcategories of Unconventionality, and he scored zero points for the Humor and affectivity and Speed subscales. Picture B, entitled "The path of growth is full of love", was drawn by a female student in 20 minutes. Her score of 36 is far above the average for this sample. Nonetheless, she failed to score any points in Boundary breaking [Fragment-independent], Perspective, Humor and affectivity, or in any subcategories of Unconventionality. From the score distribution listed in Figure 1, we can see that this student obtained full scores in the first six subscales but no points in any of the others. This scoring pattern also reflected the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese student sample as a whole.

Picture C, entitled "The garden with no worry", scored 21, which was an average score among these students. When observing the picture, one is not sure exactly what is meant by the garden. A little girl sitting on the new moon appears to symbolize a state that is free from worry. Interestingly, the phrase "smile everyday" can be found on the roof of a house, while the "windows" and doors of this house are constituted by a popular symbol among adolescents that characterizes a psychological state of deadlock and inexpressiveness. Noteworthy also is the addition of two stars as new elements in the sky. Whereas one bears a smiling face, the other has a sad face. Although the elements of this picture are less well integrated than those of Pictures A and B, its gestalt conveys a type of subtle, mixed feeling and a sense of self-constraint. Picture D, which scored 7 points, was at the lower end of the performance spectrum for this sample. This male student did not make good use of the given fragments nor did he add new ones. It appears that his drawing does not have a dominant theme. Rather, he simply reacted to the shapes of some of the given fragments. Notably, he reported taking 15 minutes to complete this simple drawing that bears no trace of imagination. He is aged 16, even though he was in grade 9 at the time of the study, which in mainland China is a junior secondary school level. As there were no follow-up interviews, we do not know whether any special emotions or thoughts were involved in the two faces drawn in the picture.

Our hermeneutical examination of the students' TCT-DP protocols leads us to echo the view of D.H. Cropley and A.J. Cropley (2000) that these drawings can serve as useful counseling tool for fostering students' creativity. As shown in the four drawings in Figure 1, each drawing reveals the student's strengths and weaknesses in terms of the numerous criteria of creativity, whether his/her creative potential is high or low. A counselor could provide feedback based on the individual scoring profiles with the aim to raise students' awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of the creativity criteria. High-scoring TCT-DP protocols could also serve as stimulus materials for those who score average or low. It can also be observed that the six figural fragments and the frame could powerfully elicit dominant thoughts and feelings in the participants. If the application of the TCT-DP is well integrated with interviews, it may also serve as a useful counseling tool for the general population as well as those with psychological disturbances or special needs (e.g., people with autism and dementia) in addition to its role in assessing and fostering creativity.

Figure 2 shows six TCT-DP protocols from the teacher sample. Picture E was drawn by a relatively young female teacher (aged 29) and received a score of 48, which was the highest score in this sample. This impressive image highlights an elegant and forward-looking lady. While the gestalt of this picture was atypical for this Chinese sample, it shared a common feature with other drawing productions in that it failed to score any points in the subscales of Boundary breaking and Unconventionality. Pictures F and G, both drawn by male teachers, are simple in gestalt but deep in meaning. Picture F, entitled "Opening", portrays a person reading a book at a desk. The key drawn outside the frame creates a space for imagination about what might be opened. Picture G is a unique drawing that conveys a kind of life philosophy. This male teacher has skillfully made use of the fragments to integrate different Chinese idioms to actualize a statement about life philosophy in the form of both abstract figures and abstract words. It is well known to the educated Chinese population that a rectangular shape symbolizes integrity, and a circle symbolizes a readiness to adapt. The Chinese words inside the frame convey the idea that people should know when it is time to adapt and when it is time to actualize their integrity. If one can master the dialectic of stretching and shrinking, with a focus on dense accumulation but dispersed release, then one can become a powerful force like the river and the sea. This idea is crystallized in the title of "Actualizing integrity and having a readiness to adapt as a life principle". In contrast to the uniqueness of Picture G, Picture H, drawn by a female teacher, portrays the theme of "Life in nature", which was common in this sample. This teacher reported taking 30 minutes to complete this picture, which reflects an engaged attitude (which does not, however, guarantee a high score). This picture shares the common weaknesses of the other Chinese drawings in that it did not score any points in the subscales of Boundary breaking, Humor and affectivity, and Unconventionality.

Pictures E, F, G, and H received above average scores compared to the entire teacher sample. For illustrative purposes, we also show two more images (Figure 2, Pictures I and J) that were produced by teachers and obtained the average and low scores of 16 and 7 points, respectively. Picture I, entitled "Inner structure of cells", was created by a female biology teacher. It was not unusual among this sample for the themes selected by teachers to be related to the subjects that they taught. Picture J, created by a male teacher, is typical of the drawings at the low-scoring end. There is no theme, and the concrete but disconnected figures he has drawn appear to be reactions to the fragments provided.

In our earlier analysis of the relative scoring patterns of Chinese teachers and students, we raised the question about the possibilities for creativity education when teachers demonstrate less, or only slightly more, creative potential than their students. A closer, hermeneutical look at the teachers' TCT-DP protocols raises new, interesting issues. For instance, Pictures F and G of Figure 2 demonstrate that the teachers' drawings could be deceptively simple but essentially original and valuable. One can also recall the talent of Picasso in sketching simple figures that were able to capture the essence of reality (see Haesaerts, 1950). The composite scores for Pictures G and H in Figure 2 differ by only a single point. One may ask if this is "fair" given the obvious originality of Picture G compared to the commonplace nature of Picture H in terms of theme and gestalt. The authors of the TCT-DP have consistently emphasized that the test is gestalt-oriented. The saying that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" is often thought of as a dictum of the gestalt theory. Notably, Koffka (1935/1963, p.176) has made the following clarification:

It has been said: The whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is more correct to say that the whole is something else than the sum of its parts, because summing up is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful.

In calculating the composite score of the TCT-DP, the authors (Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010) propose a simple sum of the points scored in each subscale. It may therefore be asked: is this not a contradiction of an important proposition of the gestalt theory?

Despite the validity issues raised here, it is our view that teachers' TCT-DP protocols could also serve as a (self-)counseling tool for fostering creative potential. Not only students but also teachers need to develop their creativity. Recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses in the various aspects of creativity using the TCT-DP protocols would be beneficial for teachers' lives in general; it would also create better conditions for their role in cultivating the creative potentials of their students.


When we began our exploration by posing the question "what can we know about the creative potential of teachers and students?", we were fully aware of the difficulty of defining and assessing creativity. In response to the mid-life crisis of the most widely used creativity tests, we adopted the TCT-DP, which is a relatively new instrument that has been reported to have satisfactory psychometric properties (Dollinger, Urban, & James, 2004; Rudowicz, 2004; Urban, 2004; Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). The relatively low scores attained by the Chinese teachers in our study raise concerns about their roles in fostering students' creativity in the school context. A hermeneutical exploration of the gestalts of the drawings and a closer examination of the individual scoring patterns nonetheless conveys new possibilities for the cultivation of creativity in both students and teachers, if we make good use of the individual perforamance profiles across the different creativity criteria of the TCT-DP. Despite the interesting findings that were revealed through quantitative analysis and qualitative observation, this work raises new issues about the validity of the TCT-DP. Quite naturally, therefore, these findings provoked us to engage in a deeper reflection on the nature of creativity, to continue the search for a conceptually sound and valid assessment tool, and to further explore the possibilities of creativity education.

In Search of The Nature of Creativity

A good conceptualization of creativity should capture its essential nature. Contemporary research focusing on personal creativity has largely been built on the legacy of Guilford's (1950) conceptualization. Revisiting of the works of Wundt (1905/1919) and Vygotsky (1930/1971, 1930/2004, 1931/1987) provide new insights for understanding the essence of creativity. Both Wundt and Vygotsky perceive imagination and creativity as two highly affinitive concepts. Whereas these authors regard creativity as any human act that gives birth to something new, they view imagination as the underlying psychological processes that make this creative act possible.

Wundt (1905/1919) highlights imagination as the underlying psychological process of mythology (including arts, myths, and religion), which constitutes one of the major areas of his Volkerpsychologie. Wundt's proposition, that imagination is not a particular kind of human ability, is worthy of attention. Based on his individual psychology, Wundt (1905/1909, pp. 74-75) formulates three principles to explain the mechanism of human imagination. The first principle, which he terms vital apperception, refers to the elementary but complex assimilative processes that are empathetic in nature and relate to the consciousness of time and space. Wundt explicitly states that vital apperception is so closely linked with creativity that the two entities should not be conceptualized as separate. His second principle refers to the intense heightening of emotions that accompanies the assimilative processes, and his third principle refers to the automatic effectiveness of consciousness in actualizing what lies within one's realm of awareness. In his refined analysis of different art forms (including the visual arts, architecture, dance, music, literature, and drama), as well as manifold types of myths, Wundt (1905/1919) further illustrates the essentially interactive role of affect and volition in the actualization of imagination.

In his work Imagination and creativity in childhood, Vygotsky (1930/2004) explicitly states that imagination is the basis of all creative activities including those in the artistic, scientific, and technical realms. His analysis of the fourfold relationship between imagination and reality is exceptionally perceptive (Vygotsky, 1930/2004, pp. 13-21). The first relationship lies in the imaginative creation that emerges from the new combination of elements taken directly from a person's lived experience. The second type, which is made possible by the empathic understanding of others' experiences, involves an association between the final product of imagination and some complex real phenomena. The third relationship is an emotional one that manifests itself in two ways. On the one hand, common feelings help to draw diverse elements together; on the other, imagination has an effect on feelings that appears as a type of reality. Whereas the former has been described as the law of the general emotional sign, Vygotsky terms the latter as the law of the emotional reality of the imagination. Finally, the fourth type of relationship refers to the creation of crystallized or embodied imagination that did not previously exist. Once this substantially new object becomes real, it is also in a position to influence the surrounding real environment. Having elucidated this fourfold relationship between imagination and reality, Vygotsky then stresses that imagination is an extremely complex process. With regard to the mechanism of imagination, one of his key insights is to emphasize the dual process of dissociation and association. Vygotsky's analysis of this complexity led him to conclude that both intellectual and emotional processes are equally necessary for a creative act. His thesis that the richness and variety of a person's previous experiences constitute an important condition in which imagination operates is also noteworthy.

In his subsequent work, Psychology of the adolescent, Vygotsky further analyzes imagination as a transformative movement from a given to a created concreteness that is aided by abstraction (see Vygotsky, 1931/1998). In retrospect, it is evident that both Wundt and Vygotsky perceive imagination and creativity as an integrated whole, which is, in essence, a process of sophisticated associations within which cognitive, affective, and volitional processes interact holistically. While such a conceptualization illuminates our understanding of the nature of creativity, it also enables us to understand more about how difficult it is to develop a conceptually sound instrument for the assessment of creativity in an individual.

In Search of a Conceptually Sound And Valid Instrument for Assessing Creativity Through the lens of Wundt's and Vygotsky's conceptualizations of imagination and creativity, we can better understand the limitations of the commonly used tests of divergent production, including the TTCT. Comparatively speaking, the TCT-DP, as used here, appears to be better suited to capture the features of imagination and creativity by way of an invitation to produce images and the design of 11 assessment criteria. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the gestalt of the drawings is not, strictly speaking, assessed holistically given that the composite score is merely the sum of the points from each subscale. A hermeneutical examination of the drawings raises the issue of whether some of them might have received lower composite scores than were justified as a result of this simple summing. One can further question whether this approach does justice to the underlying premise of gestalt theory.

A close examination of the teachers' drawings revealed that those receiving a low score were usually simple pictures that were completed quickly, which also raises the question of whether these teachers were fully engaged in the test. The test authors emphasize that the TCT-DP can be used with most age groups (Jellen & Urban, 1986, Urban & Jellen, 1995/2010). While this statement is true regarding the administration of the test, the poor performance of the adult teachers in the present study calls for further investigation of the validity of the TCT-DP with respect to different age groups. This validity concern applies not only to the TCT-DP but also to other creativity tests. Adults in general might prefer to actualize their imagination and creativity through real-life channels and hence might not be sufficiently motivated to fully engage in a paper-and-pencil response to a psychological study.

Despite the limitations of the TCT-DP that were discussed above, its value was demonstrated in this study. The gestalts of the drawings produced were actualized in a wide variety of ways, ranging from simple and disconnected to highly complex and integrated products. By revealing the strengths and weaknesses of a person's creative potential via a comprehensive set of criteria, the TCT-DP can serve as a useful assessment and counseling tool. In terms of its use in research, more work is needed to establish the validity of the TCT-DP. Administration of the TCT-DP to creative people who are already recognized in their specific fields could be useful for further establishing its criterion validity. The validity of the TCT-DP could also be further examined in relation to school pupils' creative performances in different domains. In particular, it would be worthwhile to perform a systematic investigation of preschoolers and primary school students using the TCT-DP. While such endeavors could contribute to establishing the test-retest reliability, they could also serve as baseline data for longitudinal studies that would enable assessment of its predictive validity.

In Search of More Possibilities in Cultivating Creativity

The unimpressive creative potentials of Chinese teachers revealed by this study causes us to question our optimism about the future cultivation of creativity. Nonetheless, our hermeneutical examination of the TCT-DP protocols and close look of the individual scoring profiles have provided some possibilities. If teachers learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses reflected in their performances in the TCT-DP, they may be able to find ways to develop their own creativity and thus create the conditions necessary for the cultivation of creativity in others. Furthermore, the individual TCT-DP scoring profiles of the students could serve as specific hints for teachers to foster the cognitive skills and personality traits that would be conducive to creative performance.

A deeper reflection on the conceptualization of creativity opens up more possibilities for its cultivation. If there is substance in the views of Wundt and Vygotsky, the underlying psychological mechanism of creativity is essentially a type of sophisticated association that we can call imagination. For the cultivation of imagination and creativity, we can then focus on tackling the factors that facilitate and hinder this type of sophisticated association. Whereas rich knowledge and life experiences serve as necessary conditions for such mental associations, a favorable affective and volitional state is needed to make these factors sufficient. In contrast, sophisticated mental associations are less likely to occur in students with little knowledge, limited life experiences, and stressful lives. If teachers understand more about the essence of imagination and creativity, they will be better able to cultivate their students' creative potentials, even if they themselves do not excel in creativity.

Studies of the creativity of individuals who are highly eminent in the arts and sciences have commonly observed that the underlying motive of these individuals is an uncompromising pursuit of values such as truth, beauty, and/or goodness, rather than originality for its own sake. Upon analyzing the lifetime contributions of Picasso and Einstein to their respective fields of visual arts and theoretical physics, Miller (2001) proposed that their achievements were the result of an urge for a more satisfying representation of space and time on a deeper level. Such an urge is essentially a search for truth and beauty. C.S. Lewis (1943/1978, p. 190), the renowned scholar and writer, also reminds us that those who care about originality cannot give birth to a piece of original work in the realms of literature and art; on the contrary, those who are determined to tell the truth in a pure sense will have a high chance of attaining originality, usually without conscious awareness of doing so. Miller and Lewis' insights suggest that the cultivation of fundamental values plays an important role in fostering creativity.

Schools have long served as a place where learning experiences are arranged for students, and teachers have an important role in sharing knowledge and conveying fundamental values that include truth, beauty, and goodness. If our teachers perform the traditional roles of educators effectively and specifically cultivate the thinking skills and personality characteristics involved in creative performance, our hopes for the cultivation of students' creative potentials can be renewed. This hope is essentially substantiated by a deeper understanding of the nature of creativity.


To better understand the creative potential of teachers and students, we need a better conceptualization of creativity and a more refined assessment tool that is conceptually sound and valid. On the basis of these endeavors, we could be more optimistic about the possibilities of cultivating creativity. In this epilogue, we echo the concluding remark of one of Arnheim's (1985/1996, p.168) methodological essays: "What finally matters is how deeply one penetrates to the core of one what is looking for." We also suggest that one of the verses in T. S. Eliot's Little Gidding accurately reflects the process of this study:

   We shall not cease from exploration
   And the end of all our exploring
   Will be to arrive where we started
   And know the place for the first time.


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Wan-chi Wong

Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Huanu Xu

Wuhan University, China

Yin Li

Peking University, China

Wu-jing He

The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Wan-chi Wong, Department of Educational Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, HONG KONG. E-mail:

(1) This student sample had been applied to address the question of the greater male variability hypothesis in creative thinking and the results were published in the following article: He, W.-J., Wong, W.C., Li, Y, & Xu, H. (2013). A study of the greater male variability hypothesis in creative thinking in Mainland China: Male superiority exists. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(8), 882-886.

Table 1

Inter-rater Reliabilities of the TCT-DP (n = 201).

Composite scale and Subscales                    Cronbach's alpha

TCT-DP composite scale                                 .991


Continuations (Cn)                                     .995
Completions (Cm)                                       .996
New elements (Ne)                                      .993
Connections made with lines (Cl)                       .988
Connections made to produce a theme (Cth)              .979
Boundary breaking [Fragment-dependent] (Bfd)          1.000
Boundary breaking [Fragment-independent] (Bfi)         .951
Perspective (Pe)                                       .982
Humor and affectivity (Hu)                             .653
Unconventionality                                      .939
Unconventionality A (Uca)                             1.000
Unconventionality B (Ucb)                              .799
Unconventionality C (Ucc)                              .882
Unconventionality D (Ucd)                              .799
Speed(Sp)                                              .988

Table 2

Means, Standard Deviations, and t-values of the TCT-DP Scores of
Teachers (N = 618) And Students (N = 631) in Mainland China.

            Teachers       Students
           (N = 618)       (N = 631)

           M      SD      M      SD    Adjusted t (a)   Cohen's d

TCT-DP   16.16   8.04   20.76   9.74     82.51 ***        -0.51
Cn       4.10    1.18   4.64    0.96     78.57 ***        -0.50
Cm       3.43    1.56   4.21    1.34     89.23 ***        -0.54
Ne       1.46    1.95   2.61    2.34     87.87 ***        -0.53
Cl       1.71    1.97   2.41    2.29     32.95 ***        -0.33
Cth      3.71    2.28   4.23    2.44     14.97 ***        -0.22
Bfd      0.40    1.49   1.09    2.27     40.23 ***        -0.36
Bfi      0.33    1.22   0.51    1.54       4.91 *         -0.13
Pe       0.29    0.68   0.22    0.57       4.00 *         0.11
Hu       0.11    0.58   0.06    0.43        2.44          0.10
Uc       0.19    0.81   0.39    1.22      12.07 **        -0.19
Sp       0.43    1.27   0.40    1.14        0.19          0.02

Note. * p < .05; ** p < .01, *** p < .001

(a) Bonferroni procedures were used to adjust for multiple

Table 3

Means, Standard Deviations And t-values of the TCT-DP Scores of
Teachers (n = 93) And Students (n = 301) at School A in the Hebei

            Teachers       Students
            (n = 93)       (n = 301)

         Mean     SD    Mean     SD    Adjusted t (a)   Cohen's d

TCT-DP   16.46   7.37   24.79   9.83     56.77 ***        -0.90
Cn       4.13    1.06   4.74    1.00     26.10 ***        -0.60
Cm       3.58    1.45   4.52    1.26     36.45 ***        -0.72
Ne       1.60    1.98   3.20    2.35     35.20 ***        -0.71
Cl       1.71    1.84   3.19    2.28     32.69 ***        -0.68
Cth      4.05    2.27   5.01    1.87     16.84 ***        -0.49
Bfd      0.06    0.62   1.73    2.70     34.88 ***        -0.70
Bfi      0.13    0.61   0.85    2.00      11.66 **        -0.41
Pe       0.22    0.49   0.28    0.63        0.81          -0.10
Hu       0.13    0.61   0.11    0.56        0.08          0.04
Uc       0.42    1.37   0.60    1.48        1.07          -0.12
Sp       0.43    1.26   0.55    1.32        0.65          -0.09

Note. ** p < .01, *** p < .001

(a) Bonferroni procedures were used to adjust for multiple

Table 4

Means, Standard Deviations And t-values of the TCT-DP Scores of
Teachers (n = 40) And Students (n = 330) at School B in the Hebei

            Teachers       Students
            (n = 40)       (n = 330)

         Mean     SD    Mean     SD    Adjusted t (a)   Cohen's d

TCT-DP   19.30   8.45   17.08   8.06        2.67          0.27
Cn       4.48    1.13   4.55    0.92        0.24          -0.07
Cm       3.62    1.51   3.92    1.34        1.70          -0.22
Ne       2.45    2.36   2.07    2.20        1.05          0.17
Cl       1.85    2.02   1.69    2.05        0.21          0.08
Cth      4.42    2.16   3.51    2.68       4.34 *         0.35
Bfd      0.60    1.82   0.50    1.59        0.14          0.06
Bfi      0.45    1.45   0.20    0.82        2.71          0.28
Pe       0.45    0.85   0.16    0.50      10.14 **        0.53
Hu       0.15    0.66   0.02    0.23       6.52 *         0.43
Uc       0.10    0.50   0.20    0.87        0.50          -0.12
sp       0.72    1.57   0.26    0.92      7.65 **         0.46

Note. * p < .05; ** p < .01

(a) Bonferroni procedures were used to adjust for multiple
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Author:Wong, Wan-Chi; Xu, Huanu; Li, Yin; He, Wu-Jing
Publication:The International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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