Creativity and Mental Well-Being in Older Australians: A Mixed-Method Study

Therese Schmid

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Past research has demonstrated the mental health benefits of creativity in general terms, but little of the research has been quantitative. Furthermore, there is scant research about whether creativity has beneficial effects on healthy ageing. Relevant findings might suggest ways of promoting mental well-being for older people and of caring for older adults more effectively. In light of this, the aim of this research was to investigate the effects of a creativity enhancement program on creativity and mental well-being of active older adults. A mixed-method approach was used, comprising a quantitative and a qualitative study.

Eighty-five people aged 65 years and over were allocated to either a creativity
intervention group (n = 41) or a control group (n = 44). The intervention group took part in 12 weekly sessions involving creative problem solving and cognitive and expressive creative arts activities. Both groups completed the Test for Creative Thinking – Drawing Production (TCT-DP) and The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS) prior to the intervention, immediately after it, and 5 months after that. Reliability-corrected ANCOVAs were used to determine whether changes in creativity and mental well-being scores had occurred as a result of the intervention.

The quantitative study showed that the participants in the intervention group
obtained significantly higher creativity scores than did the control group immediately after completing the program (p = .036), but not 5 months later. There was no statistically significant difference in mental well-being scores immediately after completing the program or 5 months subsequently. The results revealed that the creativity enhancement intervention had only a short-lived effect on participants’ creativity and no measurable effect on mental well-being. It seems that participants may have required a longer intervention to develop more enduring creative habits capable of being detected by quantitative methods and that booster /maintenance intervention sessions might have been of benefit. The WEMWBS may not be appropriate for measuring mental well-being change in older adults. Further research in this area may need to include the design of a battery of mental health and well-being instruments appropriate for this group.

In the qualitative study, interviews were conducted with 24 participants from the
intervention. The interviews were semi-structured on the basis of an a priori framework and their contents were analysed using a grounded theory approach. Five themes identified in the interview data revealed a broad range of behavioural changes indicative of increased creativity and mental well-being, thus showing that the creativity intervention had in fact been effective, especially the creative problem-solving aspects. It was a catalyst for self- fulfilment/development, which is known to be related to mental well-being. Thus, the mixed-method approach revealed the complexity involved in
studying the links between creativity and mental well-being and the difficulty of
attempting to measure creativity and mental well-being via quantitative means alone. The mixed-method approach allowed subtle information to emerge and indicated the need to develop ways of studying the phenomenological and contextual circumstances of participants.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Pope, Rod, Principal Supervisor
  • Moran, Anna, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Apr 2016
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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