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Magical thinking and creativity in preschool children Eugene Subbotsky and Clare Hysted Lancaster University, United Kingdom.

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Presentation on theme: "Magical thinking and creativity in preschool children Eugene Subbotsky and Clare Hysted Lancaster University, United Kingdom."— Presentation transcript:

1 Magical thinking and creativity in preschool children Eugene Subbotsky and Clare Hysted Lancaster University, United Kingdom

2 Magical thinking  Magical thinking is the ways of acting and reasoning about the physical world that violate known physical principles  Contrary to science, magical thinking embraces the idea that thoughts, words and even wishes can produce physical effects on inanimate objects.

3 Research on magical thinking  Has shown that in the age of 4 to 6 years most children believe in magic, both in their actions and verbal judgments (Harris et al, 1991; Phelps and Woolley, 1994; Subbotsky, 2004)  Subbotsky (1985) looked at 4, 5 and 6-year old children. They were told a story involving a magical box which could turn pictures into real objects, and when asked if this could happen in reality the vast majority denied the possibility. However, when the experimenter left the children alone in the room, 90% used magical commands in an attempt to change the pictures into real objects, and were very disappointed when they could not make this happen.

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5 Social uses of magical thinking  Multinational industries (such as toy production and entertainment) exploit and support magical beliefs in children.  By the age of 6, most children have seen “ Harry Potter ” and have had books about wizards and fairies read to them.  In most families, children are exposed to magical folk characters, such as Santa Claus, the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy (Clark, 1995; Woolley, 1997).  Yet, despite the pervasive nature of the phenomenon, surprisingly little is known about its effects on children ’ s cognitive and social development.

6 The problem  Is children’s magical thinking just a by-product of cognitive development that is confined to the area of play and entertainment?  Or does it play a role in cognitive development?  It is hypothesized in this study that magical thinking does play a part in cognitive development, by enhancing creative thinking in children.

7 Creativity  Creativity is increasingly described a the capacity to generate novelty in action and thinking, independently of whether the new products have or don’t have any utilitarian value (Runco, Nemiro & Walberg, 1998; Smith, 2001)

8 Creativity in children  In her pioneering work Elizabeth Andrew ’ (1930) suggested that creative imagination exists in all normal children.  Quality of fantasy and imagination in early play was found to be a predictor for divergent thinking over time, independently of IQ (Russ, Robins and Christiano,1999; Russ and Kaugars, 2001)

9 Magical thinking and creative thinking  By definition, magical thinking is the ability to construct a world that is alternative to the real world. In this capacity, magical thinking is a branch of divergent thinking - the capacity to solve problems that imply not just one correct answer but a variety of alternative solutions.  Divergent thinking is also seen as important component of creativity.  These common features make it possible to ask a question about the potential link between magical thinking and creativity.

10 Assessing creativity  A common method of assessing creativity is through divergent thinking measures.  Torrance ’ s ‘ Thinking Creatively in Action and Movement ’ (TCAM) test was designed to measure 4 to 8 year old children ’ s capacity to show creativity (Torrance, 1981)

11 TCAM and Divergent problem solving  Reisman et al. (1980) showed that preschool children’s scores on TCAM significantly correlated with a modified Piaget’s set of measures on divergent problem solving

12 Aim of the study  To examine if presenting children with a highly magical film display that promotes fantastical and imaginative associations is likely to make children show greater creativity in subsequent tests if compared with children who have been presented with a film without any magical content.

13 Participants  Twenty five 4-year-olds and twenty seven 9-year- olds. The children were in the same class at school but came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds in the area of greater London.  In the younger age group, 12 children were in the control and 13 in the experimental condition. In the older group, the numbers were 13 and 14, accordingly.

14 Design  Independent variables were Type of intervention the children experienced (2: magical and non-magical), and Age (2: four or six years). The dependent variables were the measures of creativity, assessed through both the TCAM (giving fluency, originality and imagination scores) and the children’s drawings and responses to questions about these drawings, rated on originality and “unreality”.

15 Pre-tests  After being randomly assigned to groups, children were individually required to carry out activity 1 of the Torrance test, which involved moving across the room in as many different ways as possible. Six-year-olds also had to draw two pictures of non-existing objects (toy and fruit) and answer questions about these prior to the intervention.  This was to ensure that the control and experimental groups were not significantly different prior to the intervention impact.

16 Experimental manipulation  Participants watched one of two intervention films which were 15 minutes long and comprised scenes from the film ‘ Harry Potter and the Philosopher ’ s Stone ’, deemed as having either ‘ magical ’ or ‘ non-magical ’ content.  The magical scenes included animals talking, witches and wizards using wands, performing magic spells and flying on broomsticks.  The non-magical film was made up of scenes with the same characters but in this case having conversations with no mention of any non- standard behaviour or beliefs.

17 Equating the films  Ten judges who were blind to the purpose of the film, independently rated the films on the following scales: emotional response, magical content, pace, and richness in action (very poor – 1, to very rich – 5).  The films scored the same on all scales but magical content, with magical content of the “ magical ” film scoring significantly higher than that of the “ non-magical ” film.

18 Assessing the results  After watching the films, children individually completed the remaining activities (2, 3 and 4) on the Torrance test.  For example, in activity 4 the children used cups: they were required to think of alternative uses for the cups, for instance by pretending that the cup is a drum.  Six-year-old children were then asked to draw and answer questions on four further non-existing objects (animal, car, house and plant).

19 Scoring  The Torrance test was scored as in the manual (Torrance, 1981)  The drawings and questions were independently scored by two judges who were blind to the purpose of the experiment, on a scale of 1-5 in terms of originality and non-reality, according to a codebook.  The inter-rater agreements, as assessed by Cohen ’ s kappa, were all over 0.90 for both originality and non-reality.

20 Non-existing toy  Doll that comes to life-it comes to life and says “I love you”. Can eat real food  The puppy,pink puppy,eats apples

21 Non-existing fruit  Magic banana - open it and it’s gold  Purple and green grapes, red and green apple

22 Non-existing animal  A really big mouse, wears clothes, stands up like a real person, eats massive cheese and lives in a demon house  Special rabbit that jumps high, lives in a new house, eats bananas

23 Non-existing car  It’s the mouse’s car, so its big and round - it’s got eyes at the front and it can eat cheese  It’s a car, dad drives it

24 Non-existing house  It’s an alive house, it has eyes, and mouth and it eats cheese to make it bigger, to get in one has to go through the mouth  It rains in the roof

25 Non-existing plant  It grows in the mouse’s garden, it’s a fat tree, it eats cheese to get bigger  It grows in a pot, it’s a specially colored flower

26 Results  On the pre-test, ANOVA and Mann- Whitney test showed all differences but one between control and experimental groups to be not significant.

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29 Summary of results  The baseline level of the capacity to perform on creativity tests was about the same in both control and experimental conditions.  However, after the intervention all three measures of TCAM showed a significant advantage of the experimental condition over the control condition.  Similarly, after the intervention scores of 6-year-olds’ drawings of non-existing objects were significantly higher in children of the experimental condition than in children of the control condition, for both originality and non-reality measures.  This supported the expectation that exposing children to the film with highly magical content would increase their tendency towards divergent thinking and behaviour.

30 Interpretation of results  The findings provided support to the hypothesis that showing children a magical display promotes divergent thinking and creativity.

31 Educational implication  Exposing preschool children to visual material that contains magical effects can positively affect their academic and social development, through promoting creative divergent thinking.


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