More inhibition improves idea generation (study)

Tougher situations make you more creative? It seems so, if you look at this study by Radel et al. The study was based on a double-blind, randomized, counterbalanced, crossover experimental design. It’s a bit of a difficult paper to read when you’re not an expert in the field, but in summary:

 

  • The role played by the inhibition function in creativity was examined.
  • Inhibition capacity was manipulated through prolonged practice of a conflict task.
  • Impaired inhibition led to improved fluency, originality and a hyper semantic priming.
  • These results suggest that impaired inhibition favor idea generation.

This last element is important to note, in line with previous studies a different pattern of results is found for divergent and convergent creativity tasks. The effects the fluency and originality scores in the test used suggest that only idea generation processes benefit from a depletion of the resources for inhibition.

Abstract of the study:

There is now a large body of evidence showing that many different conditions related to impaired fronto-executive functioning are associated with the enhancement of some types of creativity. In this paper, we pursue the possibility that the central mechanism associated with this effect might be a reduced capacity to exert inhibition. We tested this hypothesis by exhausting the inhibition efficiency through prolonged and intensive practice of either the Simon or the Eriksen Flanker task. Performance on another inhibition task indicated that only the cognitive resources for inhibition of participants facing high inhibition demands were impaired. Subsequent creativity tests revealed that exposure to high inhibition demands led to enhanced fluency in a divergent thinking task (Alternate Uses Task), but no such changes occurred in a convergent task (Remote Associate Task; studies 1a and 1b). The same manipulation also led to a hyper-priming effect for weakly related primes in a Lexical Decision Task (Study 2). Together, these findings suggest that inhibition selectively affects some types of creative processes and that, when resources for inhibition are lacking, the frequency and the originality of ideas was facilitated.

 

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