In the creative school of thought with cognition as the focus, there are two ways in which we think:
Convergent thinking: the ability to create and expand on novel ideas;
Divergent thinking: the ability to select the appropriate choice from a suite of options;
(Cortes et al., 2019).
Convergent thinking is akin to the right-brain dominant individual who is known as the creative type. Whereas divergent thinkers are often the matter-of-fact left-brain thinkers. Referring to of course the whole left vs. right brain phenomena. However contrary to popular thought, there is some overlap here in the way these thought systems operate. One such instance is concerning divergent thinking and its induction of episodic memory. Episodic memory is the remembering of episodes in our lives, such as events that hold a particular meaning and have certain important elements that build it as a marked memory in our mind. One such example may be your first kiss. You likely remember the contexts associated with this event. Now when we use our memory to make decisions, this falls under the divergent thinking pathway. Research by Madore & Schacter (2014) has revealed that tasks that require access to episodic memory to complete – such as riding a bike – are actually enhanced by convergent thinking, or imagination if you will. More so Madore & Schacter (2014) found that when problem solving or viewing a future scenario that has some means as the end, that one’s episodic memory is associated with increased choices, options, or problem-solving scenarios.
So, does that mean one trumps the other?
An, Song, & Carr (2016) performed a study that found that intelligence and personality are predictors of creativity, as divergent thinking, or more so, the ability to perform creatively with expertise. However, the main point here being, motivation predicted creativity beyond these measures (An et al., 2016).
So, if motivation enhances creativity, what else can you do?
As some of you mothers may know, music can increase cognition… Well to be precise:
Happy, upbeat, and positive music, such as highly arousing classical music, increases one’s creativity, while undergoing a divergent thinking task that may require scenario formation (which episodic memory lends to) (Ritter & Ferguson, 2017).
So, music can make me smarter and more creative?
As long as it does not serve as a distraction.
But what’s important here is attentional flexibility; the ability to select and switch attention between appropriate tasks. People who are experts in divergent thinking have the ability to hold greater cognitive control of their attentional switch – meaning that they are better able to use the subtle art of choice and inhibition to control where their attention is held at any one moment.
One final point.
One’s interest or intrinsic motivation (internal motivation from oneself) as well as their openness to new experience, increase one’s creativity or convergent thinking.
To put this together for you.
If you have a difficult task ahead of you, practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is capable of increasing one’s temporal perception or the ability to be in the moment. As we now know, distraction, lack of motivation, and mental blocks can thwart creative processes.
So, if you have a demanding creative process in front of you, practice mindfulness before, during, and after the task. This will support your attentional flexibility or cognitive control, allowing you to focus on the task at hand, form solutions, and not day dream of episodic memories of your first kiss. Instead, choosing the correct response for the time given, thereby mastering the moment.
Just don’t forget the tunes.
An, D., Song, Y., & Carr, M. (2016). A comparison of two models of creativity: Divergent thinking and creative expert performance. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 78-84.
Cortes, R. A., Weinberger, A. B., Daker, R. J., & Green, A. E. (2019). Re-examining prominent measures of divergent and convergent creativity. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 27, 90-93.
Forthmann, B., Wilken, A., Doebler, P., & Holling, H. (2019). Strategy induction enhances creativity in figural divergent thinking. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 53(1), 18-29.
Madore, K. P., & Schacter, D. L. (2014). An episodic specificity induction enhances means-end problem solving in young and older adults. Psychology and aging, 29(4), 913.
Ritter, S. M., & Ferguson, S. (2017). Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking. PloS one, 12(9), e0182210.