Measuring creativity at the GrunbergLab

Measuring creativity at the GrunbergLab

Wednesday, 11 February, 2015

Do you know what creativity is? Can you measure it? On February 19, 2014 Dr. Ysbrand van der Werf gave a lecture on creativity. For him, creativity is about the creator and the person experiencing the things created.

The creator   

In the autumn of 2013, a team of scientists measured the emotions, brain activity and subjective feelings of a writer (Arnon Grunberg) as he created a new book (‘Het bestand’: an ambiguous title that can refer to a computer file or a cease-fire).

Arnon Grunberg

Arnon Grunberg is a notable Dutch writer of novels, essays, columns, poems, and plays. He has been awarded a great number of literary prizes and his books have been translated into 26 languages. In order to gather data in a natural environment, the team of researchers and technicians turned his study in New York City into a living lab.

The person experiencing the things created

The team of researchers not only measured the creator, but also those experiencing the creativity. Therefore, I went to the GrunbergLab in Amsterdam to have my brain measured, face read, and heart rate checked!

What a day! I got to participate in an innovative brain research project! It was very interesting to see this GrunbergLab. This lab is constructed by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, TNO – a Dutch technical research institute, Noldus Information Technology, and partners.

Measuring creativity

Currently, this second phase is in full swing. In the GrunbergLab in Amsterdam, I read the first chapters of ‘Het bestand’ – Arnon Grunberg’s upcoming release. Hundreds of readers already participated and got the chance to read the book way before any other fans.

The measurements

Two researchers hooked me up: sensors on my left hand, rib, chest, and of course the famous head cap to measure my brain activity – I’ve got to get me one of these for our annual Halloween party... A small webcam captured my facial expressions during reading. I must admit that I cannot recall if I had any. I hope to see at least my own results after the researchers analyzed the videos.


After filling out a short questionnaire, I started reading. I was quite curious because I’ve never read an Arnon Grunberg novelle before and heard from colleagues that his writing could be quite provocative. I could tell that the writing was carefully formulated to evoke strong emotions in the reader. You will have to make up your own mind when the book is released!

At the beginning of the test, I couldn’t relax at first because I was aware of all the measurements. Luckily, the story soon captured my attention and I partly forgot that there were measurements going on.

Stay tuned

In a possible third phase, the reactions of thousands of readers can be measured, for example by using a special app for reading it in the form of an e-book. If you want to learn more, you can always have a look at or follow ‘Het bestand’ on Facebook

A picture of good quality

Free online demo FaceReader

Curious what emotions your own face shows? In this demo the facial expression of a person is automatically extracted from a single picture. Additionally, FaceReader is capable of extracting some personal characteristics, an age indication and whether a person is wearing glasses or not.

Enter an URL or upload a file and measure your emotions!

 The photograph of Arnon Grunberg is © Keke Keukelaar 2010.