For people with autistic traits, quality wins over quantity.

For the first time, scientists were able to find a link between autistic traits and creativity.

A team of psychologists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England and the University of Stirling in Scotland found that people with high autistic characteristics are less skilled in problem solving situations, but produce responses that are more original and creative.

The researchers conducted an experiment among selected participants with autistic traits, and elaborated their findings in an online paper published in The Journal of Autism and Development Disorders.

In the study, the researchers took a look at data gathered from 312 participants who were not diagnosed with autism, but whose thought processes were highly associated with the condition or "subthreshold autistic traits." Through social media and websites that cater to people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, participants completed an anonymous questionnaire that measured their autistic traits. They also took a series of tests that measured their creativity. Of the 312 participants, 75 said that they were diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

So the researchers could measure the participants' problem solving skills - also known as divergent thinking, they designed a test that asked the participants to list down as many alternative uses of a brick or paper clip as they could. Three key factors the researchers considered were quantity, elaborateness and unusualness. The researchers then found that those who gave four more unusual responses to the test had more autistic traits than those who generated less unusual responses.

Examples of the more common and less creative answers to the paper clip question are: pin, hook, clean small groves and make jewelry. As for the more creative responses, some listed uses were: as weight on a paper airplane, counter or token for game or gambling, as wire to support cut flowers and as a light duty spring.

In another test, the participants looked at four abstract drawings and were asked to interpret the images in as many ways as they could, in one minute for each drawing. The researchers found that the higher the levels of autistic traits in the participants were, the lower the number of ideas were produced.

""People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity but greater quality of creative ideas," said Dr. Martin Doherty, from the School of Psychology at the UEA, and who is a co-author of the study. He added that these people are actually considered to be more rigid thinkers, making the results surprising to the researchers. Doherty also highlighted the implications of their findings to creative problem solving. 

Photo: Ben Alford | Flickr

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