Prophesying Creativity

Can we manipulate the creative performance of people by changing our expectations about them in other settings? An empirical study by Samuel J. Marwit and James E. Marcia provides an answer. They used responses to inkblot tests as an indicator of intellectual ability. Since inkblot tests involve obscure stimuli, the responses to them can be viewed as a measure of divergent thinking ability, which has been regarded as a good estimate of creativity. They hypothesized that the number of responses given by a subject is influenced by the examiner's expectations. In the study one group of examiners predicted many responses while another group predicted few. The results showed that subjects of the former group provided 54% more responses than the latter group. In another study, examiner's expectations were manipulated regarding the possible responses from the inkblot tests by letting a group of them know that more animal percepts should be obtained than human percepts. The other group was told the opposite. The ratio of animal to human percepts was 33% higher in the former group than in the latter group. These two studies indicated that expectations about others can influence the creative responses as well as change the content of the responses.

Pamela Tierney and Steven M. Farmer tested the role the Pygmalion effect has on employee creativity in organizations. Supervisors who have high expectations about employee creativity were perceived by employees as supportive of creativity. The correlation between supervisor and employee expectations for employees' creative performance was moderate and significant. According to this study, expectations manifest their influence through intermediate steps like motivational effects and self-efficacy. Employees' self-efficacy on creativity mediated the Pygmalion effects (supervisors' expectations). This means employees who were seen as highly creative by their supervisors and reported about themselves that they had a strong creative capacity demonstrated more creativity in their works. This finding confirms the proposition that the expectations of others are communicated to them.

In another study in an organization setting, researchers hypothesized that leadership, individual problem-solving style, and work group relations influence innovative behavior through their influence on perceptions of the climate for innovation: the more supervisors expect innovative behaviors, the more a subordinate becomes innovative. The analyses showed that expectations of supervisors influenced individual innovative behavior even though this effect is specific to certain tasks such as technical tasks.

Studies of the role of expectations on creativity showed that assuming creative potential in everyone is conducive to creativity. Recognizing the significance of Pygmalion effects for creativity, thus, would be a significant addition to the implicit theories of teachers and supervisors.

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