Computer science and engineering professor Frank Shipman, associate professor Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna, and psychology professor Steven Smith have been awarded a National Science Foundation Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (NSF IIS) grant for research on how user physiology and environment effect creativity.

Their grant, “Creativity in the Wild: Insight and Discovery with Wearable Sensors,” will be funded through 2011.

“This is the first in a number of projects that we have been working on that looks at sense making of sensor data. We are looking to integrate wearable sensor technology and user interfaces in order to interpret the data that these wearable sensors collect in any given environment,” Shipman said.

In this particular case, the researchers seek to explore how wearable sensors may support research in understanding the creative process outside of controlled laboratory settings. While experimental methods for creative cognition in laboratory settings have been very successful in identifying a number of cognitive processes and general principles of creativity that apply across a number of domains, from engineering design to the visual arts, these studies do not inform us about how creative processes take place in the real world, when users must deal with the demands of their lives and distractions in their environments.

Ultimately this research will provide the tools to develop an understanding of how physiological variables and real-world environments affect the creative processes.

“The sensors will give us valuable insight into the physiological states and environments that are conducive for creativity and how they can change from person to person. We will be able to monitor environmental variables such as noise levels and geolocation, as well as physiological variables such as heart rate and skin conductance in order to determine how these variables affect the user’s creativity,” Gutierrez-Osuna said.

Shipman’s research interests include sense making, the design of intelligent user interfaces, hypertext, the use of computers and education, multimedia, new media, and computer-human interaction. Gutierrez-Osuna’s research interests revolve around machine learning, signal processing, and intelligent sensors. Smith actively researches concepts regarding creative cognition, including fixation and mental blocks, incubation, insight, creative idea generation, and support tools for information discovery.

Written by Tony Okonski,