The Role of Bilingualism in Creative Performance on Divergent Thinking and Invented Alien Creatures Tests

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    A N A T O L I Y V . K H A R K H U R I N

    The Role of Bilingualism in CreativePerformance on Divergent Thinkingand Invented Alien Creatures Tests

    ABSTRACTThis study continues the effort to investigate the possible influence of

    bilingualism on an individuals creative potential. The performances of Farsi-English bilinguals living in the UAE and Farsi monolinguals living in Iran werecompared on the Culture Fair Intelligence Test battery and two creativity tests:divergent thinking test (the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults) and structuredimagination test (Invented Alien Creatures task). The findings of the divergentthinking test revealed that bilingualism facilitates the innovative capacity, the abilityto extract novel and unique ideas, but not the generative capacity, the ability togenerate and process a large number of unrelated ideas. The findings of the testof structured imagination demonstrated that bilingualism strengthens an abilityto violate a standard set of category properties. In addition, the study hints at theconstruct validity of these two tests of creative functioning. However, the studyacknowledges its rather exploratory character as the bilingual and monolingualgroups might differ in a number of uncontrolled sociocultural factors that couldpotentially mediate the effect of bilingualism.

    INTRODUCTIONThis study continues the effort made by Kharkhurin (2007) to investigate the

    possible influence of bilingualism on an individuals creative potential. A growingbody of research illuminates a particular phenomenon of bilingualism, which isthat being bilingual has an impact far beyond just an increased linguistic capac-ity. The research focusing on bilinguals cognitive abilities shows that they benefitfrom an advanced focus of attention and increased executive control (e.g.,Bialystok, 2001; Bialystok et al., 2005). Research focusing on their creative abili-ties indicates that bilinguals demonstrate superior divergent thinking skills (seeRicciardelli, 1992, for an overview).

    Volume 43 Number 1 First Quarter 2009

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    Bilingualism and Creativity

    Creativity is a complex and versatile construct (e.g., Sternberg, 1999; Torrance,1988; Ward, 2007) that may be effectively studied by examining the variety ofprocesses and functions involved in a creative work (Getzels & Csikszentmihlyi,1976; Lubart, 2000; Sternberg & Lubart, 1995). The present study focuses on thecreative cognition approach (Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992; Ward, Smith, & Finke,1999), which rests on two major assumptions. First, it adopts a common view(e.g., Martindale, 1989; Sternberg & Lubart, 1995) that characterizes creative prod-ucts as novel (i.e., original or unexpected) and appropriate (i.e., useful or meet-ing task constraints). Second, ideas and tangible products that are novel anduseful are assumed to emerge from the application of ordinary, fundamentalcognitive processes to existing knowledge structures (Ward, 2007, p. 28). There-fore, the capacity for creative thought is not limited to a certain class of giftedor specially talented people, but it is an essential property of normative humancognition. The methodological application of this paradigm constitutes a psy-chometric approach in which creativity can be studied using conventional toolsof experimental psychology.


    In psychometric tradition, creative thinking is perceived as an ability to initiatemultiple cycles of divergent and convergent thinking (Guilford, 1967), whichcreates an active, attention-demanding process that allows generation of new,alternative solutions (Mumford, Mobley, Uhlman, Reiter-Palmon, & Doares, 1991).The fundamental difference between these two processes is that convergent think-ing is a conscious, attention demanding process, whereas divergent thinkingoccurs in the unconscious mind, where attention is defocused (e.g., Kasof, 1997;Mendelsohn, 1976) and thought is associative (e.g., Koestler, 1964; Mednick &Mednick, 1967; Ward, Smith, & Vaid, 1997). Divergent thinking involves a broadsearch for information and the generation of numerous novel alternative answersor solutions to a problem (Guilford, 1967).

    Guilford (1967) associated the properties of divergent thinking with four maincharacteristics: fluency (the ability to rapidly produce a large number of ideas orsolutions to a problem); flexibility (the capacity to consider a variety of approachesto a problem simultaneously); elaboration (the ability to think through the detailsof an idea and carry it out); and originality (the tendency to produce ideas differ-ent from those of most other people). Kharkhurin (2008) has factor analyzedthese characteristics and found that they can be grouped together as two types ofcreative functioning: fluency, flexibility, and elaboration traits seem to representthe ability to generate and to elaborate on various, often unrelated, ideas, whilethe originality trait is likely to represent the ability to extract novel and uniqueideas. In the present study, the first type is referred to as generative capacity; itaddresses the ability to activate a multitude of unrelated concepts and workthrough the concepts already activated. The second type is referred to as innova-tive capacity; it accounts for the ability to produce innovative and useful ideas.

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  • Journal of Creative Behavior


    The ability to keep active multiple unrelated conceptual representations simul-taneously has an apparent benefit for creative production a capacity to con-sider at once a large number of properties of different categories. When peopletry to come up with a novel idea, their imagination is generally limited by a par-ticular set of properties characterizing a category to which this innovation shouldbelong (Ward, 1994). They tend to select the most common set of properties of acategory as a starting point for their creations (Smith, Ward, & Finke, 1995; Wardet al., 1997). A number of studies in various domains of creative production showthat the semantic structure of a category has a substantial influence on whatpeople produce (e.g., Purcell & Gero, 1996; Smith, Ward, & Schumacher, 1993;Ward, Patterson, Sifonis, Dodds, & Saunders, 2002). The structured imagina-tion (cf. Ward, 1994) limits individuals thinking outside the box; that is, peoplehave difficulties violating the conceptual boundaries of a standard category whencreating a new exemplar of that category. In this respect, creative thinking maybenefit from actively employing a spreading activation mechanism of divergentthinking, which engages conceptual representations from multiple categories.This multifaceted processing in turn may render a mental state in which at leastseveral sets of category properties become available for the thought process.This potentially may help to overcome the limitations of structured imaginationand therefore facilitate non-standard creative thinking.

    The alien creature invention studies (cf. Ward, 1994) provide evidence that theinstructions to violate category boundaries boosted creative thinking (e.g., Ward,Patterson, & Sifonis, 2004; Ward et al., 2002). Moreover, the drawings of the crea-tures that revealed more violations of a standard set of properties characterizinga category were rated as more creative by other people (e.g., Kozbelt &Durmysheva, 2007; Marsh, Landau, & Hicks, 1996). Kozbelt and Durmyshevacoded the drawings of invented alien creatures produced by participants on threeinvariants, the features that commonly appear in most participants responses.They found that violation of the standard invariants positively correlates withjudges creativity rating of the product. In other words, the drawings in which thestandard characteristics of an alien creature category were violated obtained highercreativity rating by the independent judges.

    THE EFFECT OF BILINGUALISM ON CREATIVE PERFORMANCEIn the study on the relationship between bilingualism and divergent thinking,

    Kharkhurin (2008) found that bilingual participants outperformed their monolin-gual counterparts on fluency, flexibility, and elaboration in divergent thinking.These findings are in line with a number of studies demonstrating bilingualsadvantages on various divergent thinking tasks (see Ricciardelli, 1992, for anoverview). Kharkhurin argues that superiority in these divergent thinking traitsmay result from the processes that activate and elaborate on a large number ofconcepts from diverse categories, which is defined earlier as generative capacity.

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    Bilingualism and Creativity

    Based on the earlier discussion, if bilinguals have advanced generative capacityand therefore operate on a larger span of diverse categorical representations,they might also show greater ability to violate category boundaries.

    The present study explores a possibility of a different use of the processes andfunctions underlying creative thinking by bilinguals and monolinguals. It repli-cates Kharkhurins (2008) study with Farsi-English bilinguals. The test of struc-tured imagination is added to complement the test of divergent thinking inassessing the creative performance. The first hypothesis, in line with the previousstudy, predicts that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on the generative capac-ity. Based on the earlier discussion, the second hypothesis postulates thatbilinguals may show a greater tendency to violate invariants compared to theirmonolingual counterparts.


    Participants demographics are presented in Table 1. The bilingual participantswere 34 American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates, UAE) students(16 male and 18 female) between 19 and 28 years of age who speak Farsi as theirfirst language (L1) and English as their second language (L2). Only participantswhose score on Farsi or English objective naming test of pictures exceeded 30out of 120 items were selected for the study. The monolingual participants were37 Azadi Psychiatric Hospital (Tehran, Iran) students (6 male and 31 female)between 16 and 34 years of age who speak only Farsi. An additional 26 AmericanUniversity of Sharjah students (20 male and 6 female) between 18 and 25 yearsof age (M = 21.04, SD = 1.66) rated the drawings. They were born in differentcountries, moved to the UAE at different ages (M = 6.81, SD = 7.80), and residedin the UAE for different time intervals (M = 14.06, SD = 7.42).

    TABLE 1. Participants mean (with standard deviation in parentheses) age,socioeconomic status (SES), language proficiency (PNT) in L1 andL2, age of onset of English instructions (AoE), age of arrival to a newcountry (AoA), and length of residence in a new country (LoR).

    Language group Bilingual Monolingual

    Age 22.38 (2.05) 23.84 (3.32)

    SES 1.81 (.54) 1.49 (.56)

    PNT of L1 105.91 (10.62) 103.38 (10.64)

    PNT of L2 87.82 (14.40)

    AoE 8.47 (3.91)

    AoA 16.44 (5.87)

    LoR 5.85 (4.96)

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  • Journal of Creative Behavior



    Biographical questionnaireA biographical questionnaire (BQ) similar to Kharkhurin (2008) was adminis-

    tered to determine participants place of origin, age of emigration to the UAE(AoA), length of residence in the UAE (LoR), the age of acquisition of L2 (AoE),and socioeconomic status (SES; 0-fair, 1-average, 2-good, 3-excellent). Monolin-gual participants received a translated into Farsi version in which the questionsregarding the experience with two languages were eliminated.

    Language proficiency assessmentParticipants proficiency in English and Farsi was tested on the Picture Nam-

    ing Test (PNT, Kharkhurin, 2005). Language proficiency was assessed by theaccuracy of participants responses to 120 pictures of simple objects (seeKharkhurin, 2007, for a detailed description), a technique similar to BostonNaming Test (Kaplan, Goodglass, & Weintraub, 1983).

    After administering the BQ and the PNT, participants were given two tests ofcreative thinking (divergent thinking and structured imagination tests) and atest of intelligence. The order of presenting these tests was counterbalanced toprevent the fatigue effect.

    The test of divergent thinkingDivergent thinking abilities were assessed using the Abbreviated Torrance Test

    for Adults (ATTA, Goff & Torrance, 2002). The standard ATTA has three paperand pencil activities (one verbal and two figural) preceded by a written instruc-tion that explains general guidelines and encourages participants to use theirimagination and thinking abilities. The instructions were given in English to thebilingual sample and in Farsi to the monolingual sample. The English version ofthe instructions was taken directly from the original ATTA; the Farsi version wasproduced by a research assistant who is a native speaker of Farsi. Participantswere given three minutes to complete each activity.

    Two independent Farsi-English bilingual raters assessed participants diver-gent thinking abilities using the standard ATTA assessment procedure. This pro-cedure took age-related norms into account to obtain norm-referenced fluency,flexibility, elaboration, and originality scores as well as composite creativity index(CI). The inter-rater significantly high correlation between the indexes producedby both raters (r = .75, p < .001) indicated that the raters used the same rationaleand their ratings were comparable. Subsequently, the ATTA scores were aver-aged over both raters.

    The test of structured imaginationStructured imagination was assessed using a version of the Invented Alien Crea-

    tures task (IAC, cf. Ward, 1994) modified by Kozbelt and Durmysheva (2007).The task was reduced from the original version to suit the purpose of the present

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    study. The test had two phases. In the first phase, the drawing task, the partici-pants were asked to imagine, draw, and describe a creature living on a planetvery different from Earth. They were encouraged to be as imaginative and cre-ative as possible and not to worry about how well or poorly they draw. They hadseven minutes to do the task. After participants finished drawing they were askedto imagine a different planet and to draw and describe a creature living on thisplanet. This trial was preceded by the same instructions as the first one and hadalso seven minutes to complete the task. The third trial replicated the secondone: the participants were asked to imagine a planet different from the previousones. All together, each participant had produced three drawings of the creaturesfrom three different planets.

    In the second phase, the rating task, another group of participants was askedto rate the drawings. All of these participants were different from those whoinvented the creatures. The drawings were placed in the plastic folders andassigned random numbers to prevent any drawing order bias. All the labels andthe descriptions of...


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