Twenty-five students in fine arts at the University of Rennes participated in this study as part of their sculpture course. The sample is mainly composed of women (69%). Initially, the capabilities of flexible thinking and social relations of art students were evaluated. Then, we looked at which of those two abilities was the weakest to divide students into two groups: if they had more difficulty with flexible thinking, they were assigned to the group “flexibility” (n = 11), whereas if they had more relational difficulties, they were assigned to the “social” group (n = 14). Second, each group received two exercises in the area where students have the most difficulty. Thus exercises for the flexibility group developed their flexible thinking, whereas in the social group, exercises concerned interactions with other students of the class. All the students completed the questionnaires.

Materials and Procedure

Questionnaires of Flexibility and Interpersonal Relationships (Pre- and Post-Test)

To evaluate flexible thinking, a task of morphing was used with several series of images; in this task, a stimulus is presented and transforms during the trials in another stimulus. For example, the stimulus is a cat, and then the image is gradually distorted with another image; in the end, we very clearly distinguish a butterfly. In this task, we measure how many trials are necessary for students to see the butterfly. Flexibility is the ability for early detection of categorical change.

To assess interpersonal relationships, a social support questionnaire was adapted from Pinneau’s (1976) questionnaire. This questionnaire was chosen because it is brief (only 12 items) and provides eight scores: interaction (time that the others took to help make the job easier), communication (ease to talk with others), help (assistance provided by others when things get difficult), and listening (available to others to listen to personal problems), as well as social actor-specific scores (the teacher, classmates, and family or friends). Thus, the score of interaction corresponds to the sum of the scores for various categories of social actors. It is the same for scores of communication, help, and listening. To calculate a score related to the professor, the responses to the interaction, communication, help, and listening to this social actor are summed. The same calculation applies to classmates and family or friends.


Along with their sculpture course, students completed a diary on their creative activities (process steps) and the factors involved (for more precision, see Botella, Nelson, & Zenasni, 2017). This diary was supplied based on an earlier interview study with artists (Botella et ah, 2013) and experts from other creative domains (Glaveanu et ah, 2013). Thus, nine creative activities: experiment, accumulate (document, collect), repeat, transform, destroy, link, mark, finalise, and wait (watch, do nothing), and nine factors: logical thinking (reasoning, planning), intuitive thinking, dreaming, will (perseverance, effort, discipline), letting go (anarchy, movement, surprise, mourning), openness (dialogue, exchange, politics), joy (excitement, enthusiasm, pleasure), lack of concern, sadness (fatigue, disappointment, frustration), were retained in the diary. The encoding is binary: students were asked to check whether they had engaged in the activity (or factor) at each meeting.

Impact on the Creative Process (Post-Test) Questionnaires

In addition to flexibility and interpersonal questionnaires, students were invited to complete a supplementary questionnaire on the impact of exercises on their creative process. Then they indicated on a five-point Likert scale how the monitoring exercise helped or disturbed them and allowed them to see problems from a new angle, to be open to new approaches, to take risks, to follow their intuition, to have more exchange with others, to better communicate their ideas, or to gain more confidence in them.


The study was integrated into their sculpture course, and the students were in a natural setting in their class. Students took the course for 12 weeks with a four-hour session per week. The first six sessions were devoted to pragmatic exploration of engraving and its techniques. Then the students received individual mid-term guidance. The pre-test was completed during the holidays after the sixth session; students responded to an online questionnaire on flexible thinking and interpersonal interactions. Based on this questionnaire, the two groups were formed. During this holiday week, the students started thinking about their personal engraving project that they could develop in the following sessions.

At the seventh class session, students began to work on their personal project. In sessions 8 and 9, we provided two exercises of flexible thinking and social relations. The students in the flexibility group had, during the first exercise, to “work for their project by using a plate or a board already engraved before the holidays by themselves or by someone else and needed to make it fit with their personal project”. In the second exercise, students were instructed “to use a different technique than the one they had used last week or to use a process that they had never tried or even to invent a process”. Students in the social group, in their first exercise, were invited to “discuss by pairs or triads of students made up if possible by affinities and to work according to the instructions that were given by another for their project”. In other words, the students did not decide what to do in this session but were directed by someone else who told them what to do. In the second exercise, students of the social group again discussed with their partners an assessment of what each had done given the guidelines of the other and what it brought to their project. Then, each student continued the personal project taking into account (or not) comments, advice, criticism of the partner, other comrades, teacher.

Finally, the last three meetings were devoted to the realisation and finalisation of their personal project. At the end of the semester, students were again invited to complete the questionnaire of social relationships. Finally, participants explained the effects of these exercises on their creative process.

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