Working Memory And Creativity

Two new studies have drawn a link between working memory capacity and creativity.  Published in the May, 2012 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin a paper by Carsten De Dreu, Bernard Nijstad, Matthijs Baas, Inge Wolsink, and Marieke Roskes looks at two studies involving musical improvisation and brainstorming.

The first study recruited cellists with no formal training in improvisation.  After a working memory test, the participants each performed three, 3-minute theme-based improvisations. The researchers recorded the performances and played them back to professional musicians who then rated each of them by originality and creativity. On the first improvisation in each performer’s series there was no relationship between the received rating and the musician’s working memory capacity. But for subsequent pieces participants with higher working memory capacity produced higher-rated improvisations as they progressed, while lower working memory participants tended to produce poorer performances.

The second study involved brainstorming, with subjects aiming to come up with as many ideas as possible in several categories. Ideas were then rated by originality and rarity. The researchers also recorded whether participants tended to explore a variety of categories while brainstorming (flexibility), or whether they tended to produce several ideas from one category before moving on (persistence).  The study showed that participants with higher working memory capacity came up with more original and novel ideas than those with low working memory capacity. People with high working memory capacity also showed greater persistence than those with low working memory capacity.


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