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Introducing… The Imagination Institute!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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One of humanity’s most precious resources is imagination.

Our ability to overcome the constraints of the present environment and travel to distant places and hopeful futures all in the mind is a skill that is hugely neglected in today’s society. With our intense focus on enabling students and employees to master what is, we are missing out on the huge opportunity for them to also imagine what could be.

But what constitutes imagination? How can imagination be measured and developed? What conditions allow imagination to flourish? These are some of the most pressing questions facing our generation.

In recent years, a number of scientists from various disciplines have been attempting to answer these questions. To stimulate and help support this research, we launched the newly minted Imagination Institute. The Imagination Institute is dedicated to making progress on the measurement, growth, and improvement of imagination across all sectors of society. The Institute is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania.

The executive director of The Imagination Institute is Martin Seligman- founder of the field of positive psychology. The lead scientific consultant is Marie Forgeard, and I am the scientific director. Our board of scientific advisors consists of psychologists Angela Duckworth, Rex Jung, Dean Keith Simonton, Robert Sternberg, and Philip Tetlock, novelist Richard Powers, and Major General (ret) Robert Scales. We also are building up an excellent team of researchers here at the University of Pennsylvania, including Jeanette Elstein and Jane Reznik.

To help achieve its mission, the Imagination Institute is holding a grants competition titled Advancing the Science of Imagination: Toward an “Imagination Quotient” to test, validate and develop measurement tools and interventions for imagination and perspective (download Request for Proposals). In 2015, up to fifteen (15), two-year grants in the range of $150,000 to $200,000 will be awarded to scholars from around the world.

The awards are intended to generate new scientific information in order to further clarify the construct of imagination and its measurement for the purpose of advancing an understanding of the human mind and its role in the optimization of human potential and flourishing. The award recipients will be brought together for a retreat at the conclusion of the program in the summer of 2017 in order to compare the results of their projects and to discuss longer-term efforts at generating an “Imagination Quotient”.

The grants competition is targeted to psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators who conduct research on theory of mind, mental imagery, mental simulation, perspective taking, prospective thought, daydreaming, mind wandering, counterfactual thinking, creativity, memory, curiosity, child development, aging, social cognition, and related fields, to support projects that seek to test and validate a proposed measure and develop an intervention for imagination/perspective. This initiative encourages such researchers to collaborate with individuals in corporate, military, school, health, university, governmental, and artistic settings to demonstrate that the proposed measure and interventions work in such a setting. Proposals from around the world will be welcomed.

The Institute also plans to host a series of events during which researchers will interact with notable imaginative and creative individuals in various domains (e.g., academic, cultural, and organizational). The purpose of these events is to further refine our understanding of the nature of imagination and to inform the future of research in the field.

For more information, see our newly launched website (http://imagination-institute.org) or contact info@imagination-institute.org.

Scott Barry Kaufman About the Author: Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of imagination. His latest book is Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Follow on Twitter @sbkaufman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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