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Constraining effects of examples in a creative generation task


In three experiments we tested the conformity hypothesis—that subjects' ideas would conform to examples they had been shown—by using a creative generation paradigm in which subjects imagined and sketched new exemplars of experimenter-defined categories. Designs madeby subjects who had first seen three examples of ideas were compared with those of control subjects, who received no examples. In all three experiments, the designs of subjects who had seen the examples were more likely to contain features of the examples. This conformity effect did not significantly decrease in Experiment 2, when a 23-mm task was interpolated between viewing the examples and generating related ideas. The hypothesis that the observed conformity effects may have been caused by subjects' assumptions that they should try to generate ideas similar to the examples was refuted in Experiment 3; explicitly instructing subjects to create ideas that were verydifferent from the examples did not decrease conformity to the examples, and instructing them to conform to the examples significantly increased conformity. The results show that recent experience can lead to unintentional conformity, constraining the generation of creative ideas.


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This research was supported in part by NIMH Grant ROl MH4473001 to S.M.S.

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Smith, S.M., Ward, T.B. & Schumacher, J.S. Constraining effects of examples in a creative generation task. Mem Cogn 21, 837–845 (1993).

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  • Creative Thinking
  • Generation Task
  • Creative Idea
  • Creative Generation
  • Introductory Psychology Class