Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Don't Wait to Incubate: Immediate versus Delayed Incubation in Divergent Thinking

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Don't Wait to Incubate: Immediate versus Delayed Incubation in Divergent Thinking

Article excerpt

Published online: 2 March 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Previous evidence for the effectiveness of immediate incubation in divergent creative tasks has been weak, because earlier studies exhibited a range of methodological problems. This issue is theoretically important, as a demonstration of the effects of immediate incubation would strengthen the case for the involvement of unconscious work in incubation effects. For the present experiment, we used a creative divergent-thinking task (alternative uses) in which separate experimental groups had incubation periods that were either delayed or immediate and that consisted of either spatial or verbal tasks. Control groups were tested without incubation periods, and we carried out checks for intermittent conscious work on the target task during the incubation periods. The results showed significant incubation effects that were stronger for immediate than for delayed incubation. Performance was not different between the verbal and spatial incubation conditions, and we found no evidence for intermittent conscious working during the incubation periods. These results support a role for unconscious work in creative divergent thinking, particularly in the case of immediate incubation.

Keywords Creativity . Problem solving

Creative problems are generally defined as problems that require the production of new approaches and solutions, where by "new" we mean novel to the solver (Boden, 2004). Explaining how such personally novel solutions are reached is still a major challenge for the psychology of thinking. In analyses of creative problem solving, it has often been claimed that setting creative problems aside for a while can lead to novel ideas about the solution, either spontaneously while attending to other matters or very rapidly when the previously intractable problem is revisited. Personal accounts by eminent creative thinkers in a range of domains have attested to this phenomenon (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Ghiselin, 1952; Poincaré, 1913). In his well-known fourstage analysis of creative problem solving, Wallas (1926, p. 80) labeled a stage at which the problem is set aside and not consciously addressed as "incubation," and this stage is the focus of the present study.

Following Wallas (1926), a substantial body of experimental research on incubation effects has accumulated using both insight problems-to which there is a single solution, but the solver has to develop a new way of representing or structuring the task in order to reach that solution-and divergent problems-to which there is no single correct solution, but the solution process encourages seeking as many novel and useful ideas as possible. The prototypical divergent task, which was the one used in the present study, is the alternative-uses task, in which participants are asked to generate as many uses as possible that are different from the normal uses of one or more familiar objects, such as a brick (Guilford, 1971; Guilford, Christensen, Merrifield, & Wilson, 1978; Gilhooly, Fioratou, Anthony, & Wynn, 2007). In the classic laboratory paradigm for studying incubation effects, which we will label the delayed-incubation paradigm, participants in the incubation condition work on the target problem for an experimenter-determined amount of time (preparation time), are then given an interpolated activity away from the target task for a fixed time (incubation period), and finally return to the target problem for a postincubation work period. The performance of the incubation group is contrasted with that of a control group, who have worked continuously on the target task for a time equal to the sum of the preparation time and the postincubation conscious working time among the incubation group. A recently developed variant (the immediate-incubation paradigm) employs an interpolated task for a fixed period immediately after instructions on the target problem and before any conscious work has been undertaken, followed by uninterrupted work on the target problem (Dijksterhuis & Meurs, 2006). …

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