Journal of Creative Behavior
1Volume __ Number ___ _______ Quarter 2010
PAUL B. PAULUS
NICHOLAS W. KOHN
LAUREN E. ARDITTI
Effects of Quantity and Quality
Instructions on Brainstorming
One of the basic presumptions of brainstorming is that a focus on generating a
large number of ideas enhances both the number of ideas generated and the
number of good ideas (original and useful). Prior research has not clearly dem-
onstrated the utility of such a quantity focus in comparison to a condition in which
quantity is not emphasized. There have been some comparisons of the impact of
quantity and quality focus on the number and quality of ideas, but the results of
these comparisons have been mixed. The present study examined brainstorming
with four different types of instructions: no specific focus, a quantity goal, a qual-
ity goal, or a joint quantity and quality goal. The quantity goal condition was
superior to the other three conditions in leading to the generation of more ideas
and more good ideas. These findings support Osborn’s (1953) assumption that
a quantity focus is most beneficial for brainstorming.
Keywords: brainstorming; group creativity; task instructions
Brainstorming is a popular method for generating original ideas. It was devel-
oped by Alex Osborn (1953) who emphasized that idea generation groups would
work best if there was a focus on generating a large number of ideas. To facilitate
this process, he proposed that brainstorming groups should follow four key rules:
focus on quantity; do not criticize ideas as they are being generated; say whatever
ideas come to mind; and build on the ideas of others. Research has demonstrated
that the use of these rules does increase the number of ideas and the number of
good ideas. For example, Parnes and Meadow (1959) compared presenting the
standard brainstorming instructions with a condition in which participants were
asked to generate only good ideas. The standard instructions increased the num-
ber of ideas and the number of good ideas (rated at least moderately unique and
moderately useful). In a more extreme version of this comparison (Meadow,
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM1
Parnes, & Reese, 1959), it was emphasized that quality was not a concern in the
brainstorming instructions condition and that bad ideas would be subtracted from
their scores in the good ideas condition. Again, the number of good ideas was
greater in the brainstorming condition than in the good idea condition. They did
not present data on the total number of ideas. However, since these studies did
not have a non-specific instruction control group, it is not possible to determine
whether the effect was due to the facilitating effect of the brainstorming instruc-
tions or the inhibiting effects of the “generate good ideas” instructions. Nemeth,
Personnaz, Personnaz, and Goncalo (2004) did use a “no instruction” (control)
condition in addition to the typical brainstorming instructions condition. They
found that the brainstorming instructions did not enhance the number of ideas
generated relative to the control. They did not analyze ideas for quality.
Research on which of the four rules are critical to production is limited. Nemeth
et al. (2004) found that the withholding of the criticism rule was not a critical
factor in influencing the number of ideas generated. A “debate and criticize”
condition generated more ideas than the control condition and the condition
asking participants to avoid criticism. The beneficial effect of the debate and
criticize condition is somewhat surprising given the evidence that evaluation
concerns can inhibit the number of ideas generated (Bartis, Szymansi, & Harkins,
1988; Camacho & Paulus, 1995; Diehl & Stroebe, 1987). Nemeth et al. (2004)
suggest that the debate instructions may actually have reduced evaluation
apprehension by making it clear that this should not be taken personally but was
simply part of the task. Kohn, Paulus, and Choi (2010) found that combination
instructions can increase the quality (but not quantity) of combinations gener-
ated. Furthermore, adding instructions such as being efficient in presenting
ideas (not elaborating unnecessarily or telling stories) enhances the number but
not the average originality of the ideas (Paulus, Nakui, Putman & Brown, 2006;
Putman & Paulus, 2009).
Litchfield (2008) has recently suggested that it would be useful to take a goal
setting approach brainstorming. The Osborn rules can be interpreted as provid-
ing multiple goals for brainstormers, but it is important to determine the benefits
of the specific goals. Litchfield (2009) found that brainstorming instructions were
no better than vague quantity instructions in increasing the number of ideas gen-
erated. Consistent with Paulus and Dzindolet (1993), specific difficult quantity
goals increased the number of ideas generated. However, Litchfield found that
when brainstorming instructions were combined with specific difficult quantity
goals, there was an added benefit of brainstorming instructions.
There are two competing task goals implicit in brainstorming—generate a large
number of ideas and a large number of good ideas. Generating good ideas
implies having some “quality set”. That is, one may consciously or unconsciously
filter ideas as they are generated in favor of ideas one feels are good. When mul-
tiple ideas occur in one’s working memory, the ideas that one considers best may
get priority in the sharing process. In one comprehensive model of brainstorming
this selection mechanism is called the “critic” (Paulus, Levine, Brown, Minai, &
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Journal of Creative Behavior
Doboli, in press). One focus of research has been to manipulate the extent to
which individuals have such a quality versus quantity focus using a variety of
quality measures. Bartis, et al. (1988) compared instructions to generate as many
ideas as possible with those emphasizing the generation of creative ideas. They
found that quantity instructions increase the number of ideas generated and
the creativity instructions increased the rated average creativity of the ideas.
Similarly, other studies have found that explicit instructions to be creative can
enhance the originality of ideas, but they also reduce the number of ideas gener-
ated (e.g., Chen et al., 2005; Runco & Okuda, 1991; Runco, Illes, & Eisenman,
2005; Runco, Illies, & Reiter-Palmon, 2005). However, none of these studies used
a condition in which quantity and originality were not emphasized for a baseline
comparison. A study by Chua and Iyengar (2008) did use such a baseline
condition in their study which varied degree of choice, prior experience, and task
instruction. It was found that instructions to be creative enhanced rated creativity
of the products or ideas relative to the baseline condition only when participants
had a high degree of choice and prior experience with the task.
Quality of ideas can be measured in a wide variety of ways such as the number
of unique ideas and the average originality and usefulness of ideas (Baruah &
Paulus, 2008; Dugosh & Paulus, 2005). Group members are more likely to come
up with high quality ideas when they are highly motivated to process the shared
ideas (Bechtoldt, De Dreu, Nijstad, & Choi, 2010) and when they have been trained
in the effective exchange of ideas (Baruah & Paulus, 2008). However, Reinig,
Briggs, and Nunamaker (2007) suggest that number of good ideas represent the
best measure of quality since one can have a high originality or utility score with
only a few ideas. Furthermore, when there is deferment of judgment, there may
be many bad or silly ideas as well as good ones, lowering the average quality of
ideas. The number of good ideas is typically determined by counting the number
of ideas that are high in both originality and utility (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Reinig
et al., 2007). Of course, when a group generates large number of good ideas, this
should increase the opportunity for the group come up with some good ideas
that can actually be implemented (Putman & Paulus, 2009). Brainstorming may
also have additional benefits such as developing skills and confidence in brain-
storming and adding to organizational memory in long-term groups (Baruah &
Paulus, 2008; Sutton & Hargadon, 1996).
Research has shown that brainstorming effectiveness is influenced by a broad
range of factors such as social loafing, production blocking, evaluation appre-
hension and the presence of facilitators (Isaksen & Gaulin, 2005; Nijstad & Stroebe,
2006; Paulus & Brown, 2003). However, there is still no clear answer about
the relative impact of quantity and quality instructions on brainstorming. The
brainstorming literature suggests that a quantity focus is best for increasing both
the number of ideas and the number of high quality ideas (cf., Diehl & Stroebe,
1987; Reinig & Briggs, 2008). Other studies suggest instructions to be creative
or to focus on high quality ideas can increase the quality of ideas (Bartis et al.,
1988; Chen et al., 2005). However, no study has contrasted quality and quantity
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM3
manipulations with a baseline control condition and a condition in which both
quality and quantity are emphasized. Thus we do not know how beneficial or
detrimental the quality and quantity manipulations are for measures of number
of ideas and their quality. If the quantity goal is critical as suggested by Osborn
(1953; 1957), then this goal should increase both the number of ideas and the
number of good ideas (ideas rated to be of high quality). In contrast, the quality
goal should inhibit both the number of ideas and the number of good ideas. How-
ever, other studies suggest that specific creativity or quality instructions may
enhance the average originality of the ideas (Bartis et al., 1998; Chen et al., 2005).
The studies by Litchfield (2009) and Putman and Paulus (2009) suggest that
multiple goals or instructions may enhance brainstorming performance. Thus a
combination of quantity and quality instructions might lead to the greatest
number of high quality ideas.
A total of 80 undergraduate students from a southwestern university partici-
pated in the present experiment. They received credit for their participation which
helped fulfill a course requirement. Students also had the option of participating
in other experiments or writing papers to fulfill the requirement. Two participants
were omitted from analyses due to an experiment error. The remaining 78 partici-
pants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions. The average age of the
participants was 21 years. There were 57 females and 21 males.
DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
A four condition (control, quantity, quality, joint quantity and quality) between-
subjects design was used. Each session was conducted with 1-3 participants,
each of whom performed the task in isolation after the instruction period.
In each condition participants were provided a different sheet of instructions.
Each sheet contained basic instructions to list ideas for the topic, that they could
be as short as a few words, and not to worry about spelling and grammar. In the
control condition, no goal was specified. In the quantity condition participants
were instructed to “Generate as many ideas as possible. We are interested in see-
ing how many ideas you can generate.” In the quality condition the goal read
“Generate only high quality ideas. We are interested in seeing what high quality
ideas you can generate.” In the joint goal condition the goal instructions were
“Generate as many ideas as possible; however, these should be high quality ideas.
We are interested in seeing how many high quality ideas you can generate.” Next,
participants were given the brainstorming topic of “Ways in which you can
improve your university.” Participants were then led to separate cubicles and given
20 minutes to brainstorm as an individual. They did not see the ideas of the other
participants. Upon the conclusion of the brainstorming session, the experimenter
brought the participants back to the main laboratory room. They were given a
questionnaire to rate their productivity and the creativity of their ideas (both on
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM4
Journal of Creative Behavior
Ideas were rated by a trained rater for novelty (how unique the ideas were) and
for utility (how much a positive impact the idea would have) on a 5- point scale,
with 5 being a very novel/good idea. Reliability was assessed by having a second
rater perform these ratings on a subset (25%) of the items. Defining the two rat-
ings as in agreement whenever both fell within 1 point of each other (e.g., Diehl
& Stroebe, 1991), the two raters agreed in 87.08% of the novelty ratings and
90.63% of the utility ratings. Interrater reliability for these ratings as assessed by
intra-class correlation (ICC) (see Lebreton & Senter, 2008) was .87 for novelty
and .86 for utility.
A set of bivariate correlations were obtained for our three primary measures.
There was a significant, negative relationship between novelty and utility; r (78) =
–.43, p < .001. Quantity of ideas was marginally, negatively correlated with utility;
r (78) = –.21, p = .057. The relationship between quantity and novelty was not
significant; r (78) = .14, p = .165.
The ANOVA for the number of brainstormed ideas yielded a main effect of
condition [F(3, 74) = 3.63, MSE = 152.18, p = .017, η2 = .13]. Posthoc tests with a
Bonferroni correction showed that the quantity instructions (M = 29.88, SE = 2.99)
produced significantly more ideas than the quality (M = 20.35, SE = 2.76), joint
quantity/quality (M = 18.50, SE = 2.76), and control (M = 18.00, SE = 2.69)
To obtain a measure of high-quality ideas, an idea was only counted as a high-
quality idea if its utility and novelty ratings were both 3 or greater. The ANOVA for
the number of high-quality ideas, yielded a main effect of condition [F(3, 74) =
4.31, MSE = 39.04, p = .007, η2 = .15]. Posthoc tests with a Bonferroni correction
showed that the quantity instructions (M = 14.24, SE = 1.52) yielded significantly
more high-quality ideas than the quality (M = 10.50, SE = 1.40), joint quantity/
quality (M = 9.45, SE = 1.40), and control (M = 7.00, SE = 1.36). An ANOVA for
the proportion of high-quality ideas (number of high-quality ideas /total number
of ideas) was not significant [F(3, 74) = 1.26, MSE = 0.02, p = .30]. ANOVAs for
rated novelty and utility also yielded no effect of condition [F(3, 74) = 0.37, MSE
= 0.10, p = .77] and [F(3, 74) = 0.33, MSE = 0.11, p = .80], respectively.
The ANOVA for participants’ perception of productivity (number of ideas)
yielded a main effect of condition [F(3, 73) = 4.27, MSE = 1.43, p = .008, η2 =
.15]. Posthoc tests with a Bonferroni correction showed that the perception of
productivity in the joint quantity/quality condition was significantly lower than in
the quality instruction condition and marginally lower than the control condition
(p = .060). The ANOVA for participants’ perception of creativity yielded a similar
pattern of results (Table 1), but the effect was only marginally significant [F(3,
73) = 2.55, MSE = 1.53, p = .062, η2 = .10].
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM5
TABLE 1. Perception of performance.
Condition Productivity (SE) Creativity (SE)
Control 4.75 (.27) 4.00 (.28)
Quantity 4.12 (.29) 3.59 (.30)
Quality 4.95 (.27) 4.40 (.28)
Joint Quantity/Quality 3.75 (.27) 3.40 (.28)
This study has demonstrated that quantity instructions do facilitate brainstorm-
ing, consistent with the original proposal by Osborn (1953). This finding, in the
context of demonstrations that the “do not criticize rule” and the combination
rule do not increase the number of ideas generated (Kohn et al., 2010; Nemeth et
al., 2004), suggests that the quantity component of the brainstorming rules may
be most important for increasing the number of ideas. Also consistent with the
Osborn (1953; 1957) perspective, the quantity instructions led to the generation
of more good ideas. These findings support Osborn’s (1957) suggestion that
brainstormers should focus on quantity since that will increase the probability
that among these ideas will be some good ones. The instructions did not affect
ratings of novelty, utility, or the proportion of good ideas. These findings may
be seen as inconsistent with the findings in some studies that an emphasis on
creativity will actually enhance the average creativity of ideas (e.g., Chen et al.,
2002; Runco et al., 2005b). It is possible that the term “quality” is not specific
enough to motivate individuals to generate ideas that are novel (Runco et al.,
2005b). Litchfield’s (2008) analysis suggests that it is important that goals for
brainstorming be explicit in order to obtain specific outcomes. Alternatively, the
same kinds of conditions that have affected the impact of creativity instructions
may be required for a positive impact of quality instructions. Creativity instruc-
tions tend to be more effective for artistic and mathematical creativity than verbal
creativity (like brainstorming) (Chen et al., 2005). More experience with the brain-
storming task might also be helpful on such an open ended ideation task (Chua
& Iyengar, 2008). In fact, Baruah and Paulus (2008) have found that training
can increase the originality of ideas generated in groups. It will be important to
examine the effect of instructions on other populations, especially in work envi-
ronments where the task is highly valued (c.f., Isaksen & Gaulin, 2005; Paulus,
Larey & Ortega, 1995). The Paulus et al. (1995) found that employees of a major
corporation who brainstormed on ways to improve their company produced the
same type of production loss that is found in laboratory groups. We presume that
a focus on quantity might be very important in work settings since individuals in
these environments may have a tendency to censor the ideas shared with their
co-workers more so than strangers in a laboratory group. The fact that the quality
instructions condition did not differ from the control condition suggests that the
difference in number of ideas found in prior studies comparing quantity and qual-
ity foci was due primarily to enhanced performance in the quantity condition.
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM6
Journal of Creative Behavior
Future studies should explore the conditions under which creativity instructions
can enhance the average originality of ideas in brainstorming. The results of such
studies may suggest ways in which individuals can generate both a high number
of good ideas as well ideas of above average originality.
The relationship between number of ideas and number of good ideas obtained
in this and other studies may be limited to short term settings or the initial phases
of group brainstorming. In later phases the limitations of memory, fixation on
already generated ideas, and limitations of the solution space may reduce the
relationship between number of ideas and the number of good ideas (Reinig &
Briggs, 2008). However, it is also possible that in the later stages of brainstorming
the best ideas may occur since the ideas generated in the early phases will tend to
be the more common and accessible ideas (Basadur & Thompson, 1986; Paulus
& Brown, 2007; Parnes,1961). Future studies should examine the effects of
instructions in longer term settings. Switching from a quantity focus to a quality
one in later phases of brainstorming may be beneficial as groups begin the pro-
cess of prioritizing ideas. Once many good ideas have been generated, it may be
important for the group or individuals to select a possible subset of ideas for
possible implementation. This essentially involves switching from a divergent to
a convergent process (Firestien & Treffinger,1983). Unfortunately, groups and
individuals are not particularly good at this task in that they typically do not
select the most original ideas but instead have a bias toward more common ideas
(Putman & Paulus, 2009; Rietzschel, Nijstad, & Stroebe, 2006). It will of interest
in future studies to compare the idea selection process of those who have had
different instructional sets. Possibly those who had a quality or originality set might
be more likely to select ideas high on those dimensions in a subsequent idea
This study was done with individual brainstormers. It is presumed that similar
effects would be obtained with group brainstormers because most manipulations
that increase individual brainstorming also enhance group brainstorming (Paulus
& Dzindolet, 2008). However, it would be of interest to determine whether the
differential effects of quantity and quality instructions vary with group size. Face-
to-face groups generate fewer ideas as they increase in size (Bouchard & Hare,
1970), but groups brainstorming via computer systems tend to generate more
and better quality ideas with increased group size (Derosa, Smith & Hantula, 2007).
In a face-to-face group a quantity focus would lead to increased production block-
ing relative to a quality focus (Diehl & Stroebe, 1991). Since electronic brain-
storming eliminates the blocking problem (Gallupe, Bastianutti, & Cooper, 1991),
the quantity focus may be more beneficial with large electronic groups than with
large face-to-face groups.
The perception data were not consistent with actual performance data.
Other studies have found a similar lack of correspondence between ratings of
performance and actual performance (e.g., Paulus, Dzindolet, Poletes, & Camacho,
1993). The generally low ratings of the joint quantity/quality condition may be
related to the fact that this condition had the most demanding criteria. Therefore,
participants may have felt their performance did not meet these criteria.
Paulus - Effects of Quantity.p65 11/9/2010, 12:51 PM7
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Paul B. Paulus, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nicholas W. Kohn, email@example.com; Lauren E. Arditti,
firstname.lastname@example.org; University of Texas at Arlington, Department of Psychology, Box 19528,
Arlington, TX, 76019-0528.
The research reported in this paper was supported by a collaborative grant BCS 0729305 from the National
Science Foundation, which includes support from the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis
and a collaborative Creative IT grant 0855825 from the National Science Foundation. Ajeeta Deuja assisted
in the conduct of this research.
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