Can Apps Support Creativity in Middle Childhood?


free apps for kidsIn a new study, CcaM researchers investigated whether apps can support creativity in middle childhood. Results suggest that developmentally-appropriate creative apps are more engaging and appealing than developmentally-inappropriate apps, but more work is needed to move the needle on creativity. Results also lend support to the use of well-developed media guidance tools for aiding media selection.

In recent years, creativity has become a buzzword of sorts – with parents, teachers, and practitioners recognizing the importance of creativity for later life skills. And with this rise of importance, many are asking how children’s everyday experiences may support creativity. These questions are particularly common when discussing interactive media, since interactive media offer dynamic responsiveness that may lend itself well to creative skills.

But, surprisingly enough, few scholars have tackled the question as to whether interactive media can support creativity. Enter this research. CcaM director Jessica Piotrowski, along with her former Research Master student Laurian Meester, set out to understand how apps might support creativity in middle childhood.

One of the first challenges that Piotrowski & Meester faced was selecting the apps for study. Ultimatedly, they turned to popular media guidance tools – namely the Cinekid App Lab and Common Sense Media – to aid their selection. And, as they expected, they found a wealth of creative apps … all with recommended “age ratings” attached. These age-ratings inspired them to test the moderate discrepancy hypothesis - a hypothesis which suggests that developmentally-appropriate media is best for audiences. Specifically, working with these age ratings, Piotrowski & Meester devised a study to compare developmentally-appropriate (DA) creative apps with developmentally-INappropriate (DIA) creative apps.


Working with 94 children (8-10 years), Piotrowski & Meester hypothesized that DA apps would lead to greater engagement and subsequently greater creativity than the DIA apps. To test this, children were assigned to one of 2 groups (DA v DIA) and then played 2 apps (maximum of 10 minutes each) that fell into their respective category. Engagement during play was assessed. After play, app appeal was measured. Creativity was then assessed via the “Circles” task from the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking . The authors also considered gender and fantastical thinking in the process.  

Results indicated that, in the case of this short experimental study, creativity was not bolstered by app play – perhaps an artifact of limited app exposure. But, results did show that DA apps were more engaging than DIA apps, and this engagement predicted greater appeal. Thus, while this play experience did not move the needle on creativity, it provides support for developmentally-appropriate media experiences and for the use of well-designed media guidance tools to help parents identify media that may best fit their child’s unique needs.

To learn more about this research, please contact Jessica Piotrowski (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). A complete full text copy of the article is available for the first 50 days after publication at the following link:

Copies may be also be accessed from the first author by request.

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