Divergent thinking refers to the ability to develop original and unique ideas and to envision multiple solutions to a problem.
The concept of divergent thinking was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford (1897–1987), who saw it as a major component of creativity and associated it with four main characteristics: fluency (the ability to rapidly produce a large number of ideas or solutions to a problem); flexibility (the capacity to consider a variety of approaches to a problem simultaneously); originality (the tendency to produce ideas different from those of most other people); and elaboration (the ability to think through the details of an idea and carry it out). Guilford, whose research was oriented toward testing and measurement (psychometrics), believed that creative thinkers are at a disadvantage when taking standard intelligence tests, which penalize divergent thinking and reward its opposite, convergent thinking—the ability to reduce all possible alternatives to a single solution (the type of thinking required by multiple choice tests).
Although creativity is associated with the highest levels of achievement in many fields and presumably valued by society, the mainstream educational system often penalizes divergent thinkers. The typical standardized measure of intelligence is the multiple-choice test, which is diametrically opposed to the divergent thinker's problem-solving process. To a creative thinker, it may seem more productive to try finding reasons why all the choices on a multiple-choice question could be correct than to select the preferred answer. In addition, most classroom teaching is heavily biased toward the learning style of convergent thinkers, a fact that helps explain the dismal school performance of such legendary geniuses as Thomas Alva Edison, who was considered retarded and expelled from school.
Research conducted since the 1980s has shown that such factors as mood and adequate sleep can either foster or inhibit divergent thinking. Self-reported mood checkrecalled or worked outlists administered to university students in Norway indicated that the students demonstrated a higher capacity for divergent thinking (as measured by task performance) when they were in a positive or upbeat mood and a lower than normal capacity when they were depressed, irritated, or upset. What this study indicates is that divergent thinking is still a form of thinking; it should not be confused with emotion-driven reactions to problems.
Another important factor that affects divergent thinking is sleep deprivation: tests of sleep-deprived college students showed that divergent thinking is significantly more affected by sleep loss than is convergent thinking. In addition, heavy use of cannabis (marijuana) impairs divergent thinking rather than expanding it—contrary to popular belief.
While divergent thinking cannot be taught in the same way as the skills associated with convergent thinking, there are some exercises or activities that people can do to expand their capacities for divergent thinking:
See also Convergent thinking ; Intelligence tests .
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Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development, 123 Aderhold Hall, 110 Carlton St., Athens, GA, 30602, (706) 542-3237, Fax: (706) 583-8207, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://coe.uga.edu .