The Unusual Box Test Can Measure the Creativity of a One-Year-Old

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"Helpless" and "mysterious" are two labels that can be applied to any baby. Though decoding a babe's babbling nearly transcends the realm of possibility, researchers have found a way to measure creativity in one-year-olds. The unusual box test (UBT) can predict the divergent thinking skills of even the most incomprehensible infant.

The Unusual Box Test

It's Not Unusual

The UBT seems more like a game or toy than a cognitive assessment tool. It involves a box with unique features and a few novel objects. The box might have a ledge, a weird-shaped hole, strings, tiny stairs, etc., and the novel items could be things like feathers, hooks, and sticks. The test basically measures the way someone interacts with these items, with a higher score on the test correlating to a greater number of box-object interactions. In 2014, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that the UBT can be used on kids as young as two years old (previously, we were only using it to measure the creativity of kids aged three and older).

Two? Pfft. In 2016, University of Sheffield and University of Stirling researchers pushed it a little further. This study gave 29 one-year-olds a box and some objects and let the toddlers play individually with them, not giving them any nudges or instructions. Researchers counted the number of box-object interactions within a time frame, each kid receiving a score between six and 28. A few weeks later, the infants who scored high the first time scored high again, even without counting repeated interactions.

The results suggest little humans as young as one year old can think divergently, and that capacity for this thinking in one-year-olds can be measured. The study also considered the kids' parents' abilities, suggesting that infants who rate high on the UBT have parents with strong divergent thinking skills, too. It runs in the fam, ya'll.

Indulge in the Divergent

More specific than creativity, the UBT looks at quantifying divergent thinking (DT). This out-of-the-box type of problem-solving is what results in Pinterest-esque life hacks, like using a sock to get a nice up-do or freezing a diaper as a DIY ice pack. (Both real things, by the way.) Though these may seem like almost-useless MacGyver-y skills, the numbers say otherwise. Longitudinal studies suggest that children's scores on DT-measuring tasks can predict their personal and professional creative achievements as adults.

If you're looking to rev up your adult DT engine, here are some tips for stimulating divergent thinking from the University of Washington:

  1. Brainstorm. No idea is a bad idea — let 'em all fly.
  2. Keep a journal. As random ideas plop into your brain, get them down on paper, even while you're on the go.
  3. Freewrite. Take a topic and write about it for a set period of time. Write anything that comes to mind about the topic.
  4. Mind-map. Turn your brainstorm visual by mapping out the connections between different thoughts from your thinking session.

Want some more ideas on how to unleash your inner creative genius? Check out Ken Robinson's book, "Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Written by Joanie Faletto August 28, 2017

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