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Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking

Authors: Lorenza S. Colzato, Ayca Ozturk and Bernhard Hommel


The practice of meditation has seen a tremendous increase in the western world since the 60s. Scientific interest in meditation has also significantly grown in the past years; however, so far, it has neglected the idea that different type of meditations may drive specific cognitive-control states. In this study we investigate the possible impact of meditation based on focused-attention (FA) and meditation based on open-monitoring (OM) on creativity tasks tapping into convergent and divergent thinking. We show that FA meditation and OM meditation exert specific effect on creativity. First, OM meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated. Second, FA meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem. We suggest that the enhancement of positive mood induced by meditating has boosted the effect in the first case and counteracted in the second case.


The aim of our study to evaluate the possibility that different types of meditation (OM vs. FA) induce or bias people toward particular cognitive-control states. 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: individuals excel in the AUT task after the OM meditation.


Regarding creativity, Guilford (1950, 1967) has distinguished between two main ingredients of most creative activities: divergent and convergent thinking – even though other processes may also contribute (Wallas, 1926). Divergent thinking is taken to represent a style of thinking that allows many new ideas being generated, in a context where more than one solution is correct. The probably best example is a brainstorming session, which has the aim of generating as many ideas on a particular issue as possible. Guilford’s (1967) Alternate Uses Task (AUT) to assess the productivity of divergent thinking follows the same scenario: participants are presented with a particular object, such as a pen, and they are to generate as many possible uses of this object as possible. In contrast, convergent thinking is considered a process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem. It emphasizes speed and relies on high accuracy and logic. Mednick’s (1962) Remote Associates Task (RAT) that aims to assess convergent thinking fits with this profile: participants are presented with three unrelated words, such as “time,” “hair,” and “stretch,” and are to identify the common associate (“long”). Interestingly for our purposes, performance on the AUT and the RAT were found to be uncorrelated (Akbari Chermahini and Hommel, 2010) and differently affected by the same experimental manipulations (Hommel et al., submitted), which supports Guilford’s (1967) suggestion that convergent and divergent thinking represent different components of human creativity.


(…) In any case, at least for divergent thinking we were able to show that meditation has a specific impact. This suggests that not all types of meditation have the same effect, which might explain why previous studies failed to provide unequivocal evidence for positive effects of meditation on creativity. Importantly, it also suggests that the benefits of OM meditation go beyond mere relaxation and receiving attention from a supervisor, which participants also received in the other two conditions. Apparently, OM practice restructures cognitive processing to a degree that is robust and general enough to affect performance in another, logically unrelated task. We suggest that this kind of practice reduces the degree of top-down control and local competition and, thus, leads to a broader distribution of potential resources. This establishes, or biases the individual toward a cognitive-control state that is less focused and “exclusive,” which facilitates jumping from one thought to another – as required in divergent thinking. This consideration fits with the observation of Slagter et al. (2007) that OM meditation leads to better performance in a distributed-attention task and reinforces the view that meditation practice can have a lasting and generalizable impact on human cognition (Lutz et al., 2008). (…)


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, 116.
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