The role of working memory capacity and mind wandering in creativity and insight

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Bridget A. Smeekens (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Michael Kane

Abstract: Conflicting theories suggest opposing predictions for the role of working memory capacity (WMC) and mind wandering in insight problem solving and creativity. The executive-control-benefit perspective suggests that insight problem solving and creativity would benefit from the effectively focused attention that high WMC enables. Focused attention should help guide a selective search of solution-relevant information in memory and help inhibit uncreative yet accessible ideas. In contrast, the executive-control-cost perspective suggests that unfocused attention would be beneficial to insight and creativity, as it should allow access to more loosely relevant concepts, remotely linked to commonplace ideas. By inserting incubation periods into two insight problems and two creativity tasks, my main goal was to test whether or not WMC and mind wandering during the incubation tasks predict post-incubation performance on insight and creativity problems. Yet a third possibility, however, is that individual differences in WMC predict flexibility in control, such that people with higher WMC better adjust attentional focus (i.e., narrowly or broadly) to fit the requirements of the task. For instance, there is less benefit to mind wandering during a stand-alone attention task than during the incubation period of an insight problem or creativity task, where task-unrelated thoughts could lead to progress toward the problem-solving or creative goal. Following up on previous research, I also explored the possibility, in both studies, that self-reported concentration during the attention-demanding tasks may moderate the relationship between WMC and mind wandering in the lab, as it does in daily-life activities. In a second experiment I included an openness measure and a need for cognition measure in order to assess the moderating role of intellectual motivation on WMC to predict success in insight and creativity. Overall, results suggest that WMC is beneficial for certain insight problems, but not for creativity, and whereas mind wandering is not helpful for creativity, it may in fact be harmful in some insight problems. In addition, concentration does not seem to interact with WMC to predict mind wandering in the lab like it does in daily life. Finally, although openness to experience predicted both TUTs and creativity, neither openness to experience nor need for cognition moderated the relationship between WMC and insight or creativity.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Working memory capacity (WMC), Insight problem solving, Insight problem solving
Short-term memory
Creative ability
Creative thinking
Problem solving

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