Are creativity and spatial ability improved through education?: A longitudinal study of a cohort of interior design students

Presented by: Ji Young Cho, Pamela Evans

This longitudinal study is about the changes in the creativity and spatial ability of 23 interior design students from their freshman to senior years. Nurturing creativity is one of the goals of higher education (Runco, 2004); thus improved creative thinking and problem solving are expected. In addition, because interior designers deal with 3-dimensional space, improved spatial ability is also expected. A longitudinal study was conducted in a Council for Interior Design Accreditation-accredited program at a Midwestern university to determine whether creativity and spatial ability change once students enter an interior design program. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a tool to measure divergent thinking, which is an indicator of creativity and regarded as the best predictor of adult creative achievement (Torrance & Wu, 1981), was used to assess creativity. The TTCT consists of five dimensions (fluency, originality, elaboration, abstractness of titles, and resistance to premature closure) and 13 strengths. Two existing spatial ability tests (Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Dermen’s (1976) paper folding and Shepard & Metzler’s (1971) mental rotation) and the Architectural Spatial Ability Test, developed by the author of this study, were used to measure spatial ability. In their freshmen and senior years, students took the TTCT and three spatial ability tests twice. Their TTCT performances were scored through a professional scoring service. The spatial ability performances were scored by research assistants. The scores of 23 interior design students, who started an interior design program at the same time and successfully completed the program, were analyzed using a paired sample t-test. The analysis shows that although in all creativity dimensions and spatial abilities scores of fourth-year students were higher than those of freshmen, statistically significant differences were observed in creativity but not in spatial abilities. A statistically significant increase was shown in the following areas: fluency, abstractness of titles, and resistance to premature closure. Fluency is the ability to generate many relevant solutions; abstractness of titles shows the ability to think abstractly, and resistance to premature closure is the ability being openness. In addition, the minimum score of all dimensions of creativity showed substantial increase from freshmen to senior years. To illustrate, minimum scores of originality increased from 2 to 11 from freshman to senior years, elaboration from 46 to 73, and abstractness of titles from 3 to 51. The maximum scores showed no difference. This result shows that the education process contributed to creativity, particularly the ability to generate numerous relevant solutions, abstract thinking, and openness. Students with lower scores in creativity also improved; however, no significant influence on originality, elaboration, and spatial abilities were observed. It appears that spatial ability is innate or less influential than creativity at best. The presentation will include discussion on the comparison of findings from the current study and those from the literature of other disciplines and will provide an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the content of interior design education with regard to creativity and spatial abilities.


  • Ekstrom, R. B., French, J. W., Harman, H. H., & Dermen, D. (1976). Manual for Kit of Factor-Referenced Cognitive Tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
  • Runco, M. A. (2004). Everyone has creative potential. In R. J. Sternberg, E. L. Grigorenko, & J. L. Singer (Eds.), Creativity: From potential to realization. (pp. 21–30). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
  • Shepard, S., & Metzler, D. (1988). Mental rotation: Effects of dimensionality of objects and type of task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 14(1), 3-11.
  • Torrance, E. P., & Wu, T. (1981). A comparative longitudinal study of the adult creative achievements of elementary school children identified as highly intelligent and as highly creative. Creative Child and Adult Quarterly, 6(2), 71-76.