New research into Children’s Divergent thinking at Staffordshire’s Children’s Lab

Jan 16 Sarah Rose

Dr Sarah Rose

Dr Sarah Rose (Lecturer in Psychology & Award Leader for the BSc Psychology & Child Development) updates on new research developments in the Children’s Lab at Staffordshire University:

Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with many different ideas. For example, how many uses can you think of for a paper clip? Psychologists are interested in the number of ideas that people come up with and also the novelty of these ideas.

Although divergent thinking has been studied extensively in adults and older children very little is known about the development of this skill in young children. A current challenge is that there are very limited methods of assessing divergent thinking which do not rely on linguistic skill. Torrance (1981) developed the test of Thinking Creatively in Action and Movement, and although this test can be used with children from as young as three years old it relies on their ability to follow verbal instructions such as ‘Now you do something different’ which more recent evidence suggests that 3-year-olds will struggle to understand (Goswami, 1992).

The only existing test of divergent thinking which does not rely on verbal understanding is the Unusual Box Test (Bijvoet-van den Berg & Hoicka, 2014). To assess divergent thinking the box is placed in front of the child by the experimenter. The child is then presented with novel objects and the actions they make with the box and objects recorded.

Apr16 SR Unusual box

An example of an “unusual box”

Dr. Sarah Rose has been successful in securing funding from the Staffordshire University REF2020 research scheme to develop a new Unusual Box for measuring divergent thinking in pre-schoolers and toddlers. Sarah is particularly excited to be developing this new measure as it will enable her to carry out further research into the effect that other activities may have on children’s developing creative skills. The new triangular wooden box is being developed with Dr Elena Hoicka from Sheffield University.

New Study seeking 2- and 3-year old children to test the “unusual box”

Sarah is currently looking for 2- and 3-year-old children and their parents to help test the new box. If you are interested in finding out more about the project please visit the Children’s Lab Webpage.


Bijvoet-van den Berg, S., & Hoicka, E. (2014). Individual differences and age-related changes in divergent thinking in toddlers and preschoolersDevelopmental Psychology, 50(6), 1629–39. doi:10.1037/a0036131

Goswami, U. (1992). Analogical reasoning in children. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Torrance, E.P. (1981). Thinking creatively in action and movement. Benesville, IL: ScholasticTesting Service


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We produce internationally recognized research which is driving knowledge in this area forward and we work with a variety of healthcare providers, charities, international sports teams and private sector organisations.

For more information or details of the wide range of Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit our website and our courses page.

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