Is there a hidden price in creativity for women?

Berlin12 116No matter how many different studies  are performed using different measurements in testing creativity for males and females there seems to be a consistent result. There is no difference.  Kogan (1974) found that when creativity test scores for students were compared girls had a slight advantage, so it is improbable that innate gender differences in creativity could explain why creative accomplishment of men heavily outweigh those of women. So what causes this imbalance?

  • Is it how society perceives men and women in creative fields?
  • Is it the perception that creative women have of themselves?

Of course perception is a delicate matter. Do we view ourselves as other’s see us, or do other’s see us as we view ourselves? Cause and effect are difficult to detangle.

Amabile  (1982) tested creativity hypotheses using products, not test, as measurement. Her “grading” technique was consensual assessment. Basically experts in the field of art, poetry and fiction judged the products, most of them agreeing on which were the best. The judges looked at products, but did not have information about the people creating them. Basically they found no difference in creativity between men and women. But while gender did not make a difference monetary reward did. In a later study (Amabile et al, 1986) she found that artists, who sometimes worked for commissions, were told they were producing for pay, they tended to make products that were less original.

Other researches did similar studies on how rewards affected creativity in students and noted that these results varied, based on the gender of the student. Baer (1998) had eighth grade girls and boys writing poetry simply for themselves and for the possible of a reward. The negative impact of the reward on originality was largely confined to the girls. Conti, Collins, and Picariello (2001) also discovered that that female subjects were less creative in competitive situations than male subjects. Finally Koestner, Zuckerman & Koestner (1989) research how specific and general praise affected the performance of college students.  using college students as subjects. Their conclusion? “Women tended to display more intrinsic motivation in the no-praise condition than in the two praise conditions, whereas men showed the reverse pattern.”

In each of these situations it would seem that the females do not lack creativity, but are de-motivated by the possibility of being recognized for it in competitive situations. Is there a price to be paid for this recognition that does not exist for males?

When Frank Barron interviewed artists at the San Francisco Art Institute and at the Rhode Island School of Design he found that women view their work with more detachment and less passion. Yet “when asked whether they would still paint if they had no results or success, only half the men said they would continue to paint, but all of the women did.” (Piirto, 200o) So although the dedication to art seemed weaker, the persistence was actually stronger.

The conclusion reached by Ruth & Birren (1985) is that women “appear more interested in the creative process itself than in its end-product. Women sometimes have difficulties in externalizing their inner creative processes or have a lower need of achievement in creative endeavors.” Is it simply a  matter of men putting more effort into gaining fame for their creative work because this extrinsic motivator drives them? Or do women sense a price to be paid if they continue producing more creatively and compete with men? As mentioned earlier, detangling cause and effect of perception is difficult, so I will continue to try, but may not be able to answer this question.

AMABILE, T. M. (1982). Social psychology of creativity: A consensual assessment technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 997-1013.
AMABILE, T. M . Hennessey  B.A. & Grossman  B. S.(1986) Social Influences on Creativity: The Effects of Contracted-for Reward. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 14-23
BAER, J. (1998). Gender differences in the effects of extrinsic motivation on creativity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 32, 18-37.
CONTI, R., COLLINS, M., & PICARIELLO, M. (2001). The impact of competition on intrinsic motivation and creativity: Considering gender, gender segregation, and gender-role identity. Personality and Individual Differences, 31, 1273-1289.
KOESTNER, R., ZUCKERMAN, M., & KOESTNER, J. (1987). Praise ,involvement, and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 383-390.
KOGAN, N. (1974). Creativity and sex differences. Journal of Creative Behavior, 8, 1-14.
PIIRTO, J. (2000) Why are there so few? (Creative women: Visual artists, mathematicians, scientists, musicians), Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
RUTH, J.-E., & BIRREN, J. E. (1985). Creativity in adulthood and old age: Relations to intelligence, sex and mode of testing. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 8, 99-109.


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