Thursday, August 09, 2007

Imagination Deficit?

I found an article recently: Creativity and Imagination in Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Jaime Craig and Simon Baron-Cohen, in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders volume 29, number 4, pages 319-326 (1999).
In this study, they tested creativity by first asking children to add to drawings of two parallel vertical lines, then by asking them to add to more varied simple patterns, then suggest how to improve a toy elephant, and then imagine what an abstract 3D foam object could be. In each, the autistic children did more poorly than controls, and therefore were apparently 'less creative'.
However, I would probably have trouble giving original responses to those questions. And I've partially written several unique fiction stories, such as a tale of a land with humans, vampires and werewolves (which will actually be several books set in different parts of the land that each have their own unique culture), a story about a boy who finds out he has an addictive, progressive and very destructive kind of weather magic, a story about a changeling who is actually a girl merged with a spirit being (their kind always merges with humans in childhood), and a story about a land where people form magical bonds with animals and one girl is among the few who managed to bond a (highly magical) bat, except she actually bonded two bats, which is unheard of and turns out to be because she actually has the 'soul' of a dead person in her, and she meets a mind mage who is pretending to be a vampire due to weird psychological problems involving massive denial. So am I less creative than normal people? Clearly not.
I find it hard to be creative on demand, which is partly why those tests would be difficult. Most of those story ideas are idle thoughts I had at random times. Some are dreams, some are from books I read or stories I've heard, some are from pondering 'what if such-and-such'. Each of these ideas, by itself, is not enough for a real story, but gradually they fit themselves together in my mind until they are a story. The story, to a large part, invents itself. Once it has taken enough shape, I can start working with it, using logical reasoning and research and trying to figure out what 'feels right', but the process cannot be forced. I can't make up a story out of thin air. The story makes itself.
In addition, I have trouble mentally erasing things. If I'm looking at a blank page, trying to decide to draw something, I find it hard to mentally erase the white and cover it with color. The same problem would occur with the elephant and possibly the foam objects - I can't erase what they actually look like. But if I look away, with some effort I can dredge up something. And with the foam things, chances are if I needed a certain object for a pretend game some of the foam objects would start seeming like that thing I needed.
In general, I don't think autistics have a deficit in imagination. We're just different. Perhaps odd executive functions play a big part in poor performance on tests of imagination, because of difficulty mentally erasing or calling up ideas on command, which can certainly be present in an imaginative person.

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Blogger Tera said...

Thanks for this post. I agree, completely.

I'd also have difficulty being creative on demand, with a task like "improve the design of this toy elephant." (On-demand creativity with wordplay is much easier for me, personally). It certainly doesn't mean that I am less creative than other people.

I think it's impossible to objectively measure anyone else's creativity, anyway. In 6th-7th grade I was on my school's Odyssey of the Mind team. One of the things we had to do was practice looking at objects and thinking of all the things they looked like, could be used for, etc.

Our coach made us do this with a ball of lint she got out of the dryer. I thought it looked like a Volkswagon, and said so. She thought that was a stupid answer and made fun of me for the rest of the day. (That coach wasn't very nice to anybody). She thought I was "making it up" that it looked like a Volkswagon. It did look like a Volkswagon to me at the time.

11:10 AM  
Blogger neroli said...

Bettina, thank you for your excellent post.
It is so true---on demand is in opposition to some ways in which creativity works.
So many times, the generation of creativity begins with a question--and if you don't care to answer the question, you will not be able or sufficiently interested to give a truly creative response!

9:03 PM  
Blogger neroli said...

Ettina, please forgive me! I wrote your name incorrectly, and for that, I beg your pardon.
I should know that I always should double-check---I'm lousy in remembering new names.
Thank you for your kindness in overlooking my absent-mindedness!

9:05 PM  

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