Working memory benefits creative insight, musical improvisation, and original ideation through maintained task-focused attention

Carsten K W De Dreu, Bernard A. Nijstad, Matthijs Baas, Inge Wolsink, Marieke Roskes

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Anecdotes from creative eminences suggest that executive control plays an important role in creativity, but scientific evidence is sparse. Invoking the Dual Pathway to Creativity Model, the authors hypothesize that working memory capacity (WMC) relates to creative performance because it enables persistent, focused, and systematic combining of elements and possibilities (persistence). Study 1 indeed showed that under cognitive load, participants performed worse on a creative insight task. Study 2 revealed positive associations between time-on-task and creativity among individuals high but not low in WMC, even after controlling for general intelligence. Study 3 revealed that across trials, semiprofessional cellists performed increasingly more creative improvisations when they had high rather than low WMC. Study 4 showed that WMC predicts original ideation because it allows persistent (rather than flexible) processing. The authors conclude that WMC benefits creativity because it enables the individual to maintain attention focused on the task and prevents undesirable mind wandering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)656-669
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume38
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2012

Keywords

  • creativity
  • executive control
  • originality
  • problem solving
  • working memory capacity

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