Creative foraging: An experimental paradigm for studying exploration and discovery

Yuval Hart, Avraham E. Mayo, Ruth Mayo, Liron Rozenkrantz, Avichai Tendler, Uri Alon, Lior Noy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Creative exploration is central to science, art and cognitive development. However, research on creative exploration is limited by a lack of high-resolution automated paradigms. To address this, we present such an automated paradigm, the creative foraging game, in which people search for novel and valuable solutions in a large and well-defined space made of all possible shapes made of ten connected squares. Players discovered shape categories such as digits, letters, and airplanes as well as more abstract categories. They exploited each category, then dropped it to explore once again, and so on. Aligned with a prediction of optimal foraging theory (OFT), during exploration phases, people moved along meandering paths that are about three times longer than the shortest paths between shapes; when exploiting a category of related shapes, they moved along the shortest paths. The moment of discovery of a new category was usually done at a non-prototypical and ambiguous shape, which can serve as an experimental proxy for creative leaps. People showed individual differences in their search patterns, along a continuum between two strategies: a mercurial quick-to-discover/quick-to-drop strategy and a thorough slow-to-discover/slow-to-drop strategy. Contrary to optimal foraging theory, players leave exploitation to explore again far before categories are depleted. This paradigm opens the way for automated high-resolution study of creative exploration.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0182133
Pages (from-to)e0182133
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Braginsky Center for the Interface between Science and the Humanities at the Weizmann Institute of Science for support. Uri Alon is the incumbent of the Abisch-Frenkel Professorial Chair. We thank Hagar Goldberg, Yuvalal Liron, Hila Sheftel and members of the Alon Lab for their advice and support. We thank Alison Gopnik, Kyle Jennings, Aaron Kozbelt, Ariel Lindner, Yitzhak Pilpel, Mark Runco, Jonathan Schooler, Dean Simonton, Michael Springer, Kinneret Teodorescu, Shimon Ullman and Thomas Ward for their helpful comments. Natalie Andrew and Jesse Himmelstein designed and developed the experimental setups, and Tomer Ilan and Omer Ramote helped in collecting data. Lior Noy thanks Son Preminger, Avshalom Elitzur, Ran Hassin, Ido Laufer and Dudu Noy for support in the initial stages of this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Hart et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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