A recent article in the Creativity Research Journal had an intriguing title, beginning, “Tell Me Your Name and I’ll Tell You How Creative Your Work Is.” The article looked at how a creator’s name and gender affected judgments about the work’s creativity. I found the results pretty disturbing.
Authors Izabela Lebuda and Maciej Karwowski presented participants with creative products, including poems, scientific theories, paintings, and musical compositions. All the products had been previously identified as moderately creative. They asked a group of students to rate the projects, varying the gender and whether the “creator” had a common or an unusual name.
Many of the results were not surprising. Products, in general, were rated as moderately creative—which matched the previous ratings of more experienced judges. Poems, paintings, and music were rated more creative than an original scientific theory, which is consistent with a general association of creativity and the arts. (I know I frequently have students who have never considered that creativity could exist outside those domains.)
But more troubling, in some domains, the uniqueness of the supposed creator’s name seems to have influenced judgments about the creativity of the work. Music or poems “created” by someone with a unique name were judged more creative than the same works, when presented as created by a person with a more common name. Moreover, when all products were considered simultaneously, products associated with male names were judged more creative than the same products, when associated with female names. In particular, original scientific theories associated with male names were judged to be more creative than those tied to female names, regardless of whether the names were unique or common.
What does all this mean? Certainly this was one small study, in a particular city in Poland. But the results are troubling. If our judgments about students’ creativity are swayed by their gender, or the uniqueness of their names, we run the risk of missing the creative potential around us. Would we judge Ivory more creative than Jennifer? Or Jim more scientifically creative than Jane? Looking for creativity unexpected places is important. Resist judging students’ creativity by the way they dress, their family dynamics, or even their names. Watch for the students who fit traditional less-creative stereotypes, or pursue activities outside gender expectations. Don’t let their creativity go unrecognized or unacknowledged.
What do you think we can do to make sure we don’t miss creativity that runs counter to our expectations?
Izabela Lebuda & Maciej Karwowski (2013): Tell Me Your Name and I’ll Tell You How Creative Your Work Is: Author’s Name and Gender as Factors Influencing Assessment of Products’ Creativity in Four Different Domains, Creativity Research Journal, 25:1, 137-142.