When a spoon is not a spoon: Examining the role of executive function in young children's divergent thinking

Julie Vaisarova, Stephanie M. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Research with adults suggests that executive function (EF) might play a role in the development of divergent thinking, a key component of creativity, by helping children override canonical knowledge. Procedure: We examined this possibility in two experiments, by manipulating the familiarity of objects used in the Alternate Uses test of divergent thinking both between-participants (Experiment 1: N = 53 4-year-olds and 50 6-year-olds) and within-participants (Experiment 2: N = 74 5-year-olds). Findings: We found evidence that younger children generated more and/or more original ideas for novel than familiar objects. However, this effect disappeared with age and did not depend on child EF. Further, EF was inversely associated with divergent thinking, controlling for age, intelligence, and income. Significance: These results call into question a simple executive account of children's divergent thinking and suggest that, among predominantly White, socioeconomically advantaged 4–6-year-olds, divergent idea-generation might be a primarily bottom-up process that can be hindered by top-down thinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100161
JournalTrends in Neuroscience and Education
Volume25
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the children and families who shared their time and ideas with us to make this research possible. We also thank Jean Peters, Jaye Jungmin Ahn, Wenting Cai, Cynthia Cao, Christian Coleman, Hannah Fenwick, Sumaya Hanafi, Kitone Johnson, Hee Jeong Kim, Anne Nickell, Shiv Patel, Ellen Samuelson, Sophie Richardson, Abigail Runyon, Krista Stokes, Latavia Watson, and Jessica Widboom for their invaluable assistance with participant recruitment, data collection, data entry, and coding. Preparation of this article was supported in part by small research grants from the Institute of Child Development (University of Minnesota) and the Graduate Students in Education and Human Development organization (University of Minnesota). These funding sources played no part in the design of this research or the decision to submit this article for publication. This research was conducted with the approval of the Institutional Review Board at the University of Minnesota (Study ID 1601P82923 for Experiment 1 and STUDY00002248 for Experiment 2). In both experiments, parents/guardians provided written consent for their child to participate, and children provided verbal assent.

Funding Information:
Preparation of this article was supported in part by small research grants from the Institute of Child Development (University of Minnesota) and the Graduate Students in Education and Human Development organization (University of Minnesota). These funding sources played no part in the design of this research or the decision to submit this article for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Keywords

  • Alternate uses task
  • Creativity
  • Divergent thinking
  • Early childhood
  • Executive function

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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