The relationship between attentional processes and the ability to be creative is one of the aspects that try to study the cognitive neurosciences. The ability to be creative involves a number of cognitive processes that depend on several factors. Nowadays we know that the information is stored in the brain in neural networks. Such neural networks are interconnected and are located in different brain areas. Creativity is the ability to find new ideas and relationships between objects. These relationships gives way to new applications: for example, Aristotle finds a new way of measuring the density of a body through the effect of any body that is submerged in water.
The difference between creativity and intelligence has been studied extensively, with results that tend to differentiate these two concepts (Batey & Furnham, 2010). One of the most influential psychologists in the definition of intelligence was Joy Paul Guilford. Guilford distinguishes two main cognitive processes in most creative activities: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.
- Divergent Thinking is a style of thinking that generates many new ideas, with more than one correct solution. A good example of divergent thinking is a sessions of brainstorming, that aims to generate as many ideas as possible on a specific topic. Divergent Thinking can be measured by specific tests, for example, by the Alternative Uses Test. This test consists on naming as many uses as possible to a simple everyday object, with a time limit of 2 minutes. The test also measures divergent thinking through four subcategories: fluency (how many uses are given), originality (much less frequent use), flexibility (in how many uses aredistributed) and elaboration (detail in the answers).
- Convergent Thinking is considered as the process of generating a possible solution to a particular problem. The emphasis is on speed and is based on a high precision and logic. Creativity is the ability to discover infrequent associations to solve the problem. Mednick’s Remote Associates Test (RAT), is one of the most used to evaluate convergent thinking: three common stimulus words that appear to be unrelated are presented, and the person has to think of a fourth word that is somehow related to each of the first three words.
Slagter et al. (2007) observed that meditation leads to better performance on a task of divided or distributed attention. In Colzato et al. (2012) it is stated that one of the ways to enhance creativity can be meditation. There are two main kinds of meditative training, of focused attention and open monitoring.
- In the Focused Attention Meditation, the person focuses on a particular topic: a thought, an object… Everything else that might tend to attract attention, such as bodily sensations, environmental noise or intrusive thoughts, is actively ignored to redirect the constant attention again in the focus point. Many times this focus point is usually breathing.
- In the Open Monitoring Meditation, the person is free to perceive and observe any feeling or thought without focusing on a concept in mind, so attention is flexible and unrestricted.
Study results indicate that open monitoring meditation can improve creativity divergent processes because they force the brain to work in a certain way. The study suggests that this practice reduces the degree of top-down regulation.
In conclusion, if you want to be more creative, apart from being less stressed, meditation can help you!
Batey, M., & Furnham, A. (2006). Creativity, Intelligence, and Personality: A Critical Review of the Scattered Literature.Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 132(4), 355-429. doi:10.3200/MONO.132.4.355-430
Colzato, L. S., 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. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116
Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Mental Training Affects Distribution of Limited Brain Resources. PLoS Biol, 5(6), e138. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050138
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