Further evidence that mindfulness meditation might bolster creativity

[This article was first published on R Psychologist, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.


I recently wrote an article about if mindfulness could aid in insight
problem solving
. The problem with the study, I referenced to in my
article, was that it did not strictly investigate the mechanism behind
mindfulness’ effect, or the impact of different techniques. However,
last week a new study by a group of Dutch scientist got published
that looked at if focused awareness (FA) andopen monitoring (OM) had
different effects on convergent and divergent thinking. Convergent
thinking means simply that your thinking “converges” toward the right
answer. Generally meaning that you give a correct answer, i.e. the type
of accurate and logical thinking required on many intelligence tests,
were not a whole lot of creativity is required. Divergent thinking, on
the other hand, is about “diverging” your thinking and generating many
new ideas and explore different solutions, sort if like a brainstorming

The experiments

The Dutch researchers reasoned that since open awareness relies less on
top-down control than focused awareness, it should be beneficial in
tasks requiring divergent thinking. To test this theory they recruited
nineteen meditation practitioners with an average meditation experience
of 2.2 years (in both FA and OM). In order to test convergent thinking
the study subjects were presented with three unrelated words and asked
to find a common associate (Remote Association Task [RAT]). Divergent
thinking were measured by the Alternate Uses Task (AUT), which
consists of finding as many different uses of six common household items
as you can. The subjects’ answers were then rated by their originality,
fluency, flexibility and elaboration by independent blinded assessors.
In total, the subjects participated in tree 45 minutes sessions
separated by 10 days. Each session consisted of either 35 minutes of FA,
OM or a guided visualization exercise used as a baseline measure.


As the researchers expected, after the OM session the scores for
divergent thinking were significantly higher than after the FA and
baseline sessions. They write that

“OM meditation was assumed to induce
a relatively ‘distributed’ cognitive-control state that is characterized
by weak top-down biasing of information processing and weak local
competition among alternative thoughts, while FA meditation was assumed
to induce a relatively focused cognitive-control state characterized by
strong top-down control and strong local competition. If so, OM
meditation practice would be expected to facilitate divergent thinking,
as assessed by the AUT, but not convergent thinking. And this is exactly
what the data show”.

Quality of the evidence

This study utilized a within-subject design, where the same individuals
were tested under the different conditions, and in principle each
individual served as its own control. The researchers controlled for the
major confounder in this type of design; sequence effects, both by
counterbalancing and by statistical analyses, and none were found. They
also utilized blinded assessors, which is a good thing. However, the
participants were self-selected so it’s hard to say how that biased the
experiment. Performing the experiment with mediation-naive subjects
would’ve been a better choice. Now it’s impossible to rule out that
subjects performed better after OM simply due to having practiced it
more, or that OM primed them for divergent thinking by some other
confounding variable, and that the effect is not a testament to the
efficacy of meditation. Though, it is interesting that a difference were
found between OM and FA.


LS, Ozturk A, & Hommel B (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of
focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and
divergent thinking. Frontiers in
psychology, 3
PMID: 22529832

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: R Psychologist.

R-bloggers.com offers daily e-mail updates about R news and tutorials about learning R and many other topics. Click here if you're looking to post or find an R/data-science job.
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

Never miss an update!
Subscribe to R-bloggers to receive
e-mails with the latest R posts.
(You will not see this message again.)

Click here to close (This popup will not appear again)