We’ve all been graded on our work for what seems like forever. But are grades hindering our ability to think creatively? Recently, the argument has been made that they are.
According to a 2002 study done at the University of Michigan, 80% of the students surveyed based their self-worth on academic performance. On top of this, students said that they were less willing to take on challenging tasks when there were grades involved, for fear of receiving a poor grade. Students who get good grades are regarded as intelligent, even though some of the brightest kids don’t necessarily get the best grades.
Because of these fears and the pressure to get good grades, students are unwilling to be creative. Creativity is stifled by harsh guidelines and rubrics. Rather than feeling comfortable stepping out of the box, students feel stifled and stuck.
All of this has to do with intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Studies, including the ones mentioned by Collins and Amabile in the article “Motivation and Creativity,” have found just how important intrinsic motivation is to creativity. Grades create extrinsic motivation, with students working primarily to meet certain requirements and, ultimately, to earn a good grade. However, studies on creativity have shown that high levels of intrinsic motivation, combined with relatively low levels of extrinsic motivation, can help people be less susceptible to pressures to perform, so they are able to perform more creatively. When high levels of extrinsic motivators are present, people lose the desire to be more creative and explore different possibilities.
Intrinsic/extrinsic motivators can also transfer to the workplace. It is argued that management often stifles creativity because they focus too much on extrinsic motivators, rather than looking on what individuals need in order to perform creatively and become innovators. If managers focus too much on things like goals and evaluations, it can add too much bad pressure on employees, and discourage creative thinking.
Overall, it is possible that grades hinder our ability to think creatively. When assignments have very stringent guidelines, it is difficult to think outside the box, so to speak. This can transfer into the workplace, with too many extrinsic motivators limiting our ability to innovate and come up with creative solutions to problems.
Collins, M.A., & Amabile, T.M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.