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Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation

Benjamn baird, johnathan smallwood, Michael Mrazek, julia Kam

Number of Participants: 145
Male: 35
Female: 110
Age Range: 19-32 years
*All participants completed the experiment as partial fulfillment of a
course requirement. Consent was obtained from all the participants.
Baseline UUT
All participants were randomly assigned to work on 2 UUT problems (2
min. per problem). The task was to list as many unusual uses as
possible for each stimulus into a computer.
Demanding Task
Undemanding Task
No Break from Baseline UUT
Incubation Period: 12 min.
Participants were asked to sit quietly.
Performed a 1-back working memory task that placed a strong
constraint on top-down attention.
Performed a choice reaction time task (0-back) requiring infrequent
(2) Questionnaires Administered.
Participants rated from 1-5 how often they engaged in first, different
types of task unrelated thought and the second, for explicit creative
thoughts towards the task. The closer to 5 indicated higher levels of
mind wandering.
Post-incubation UUT
Participants were randomly assigned to work on 4 UUT problems (2
min each, 2 Repeat Problems, 2 New Problems) presented in a
random order.
Daydreaming Frequency subscale of the Imaginal Process Inventory
Assessing Propensity to Mind-Wander
The Beginning
Other Studies
1. ADHS patients tend to score higher than people without ADHA on
assessments of achievement in creative areas
2. Deliberate focus on problems can undermine creativity but

distraction will enhance creativity

3. The benefits of incubation periods are greater when breaks in
creative thinking are filled with undemanding tasks as opposed to
demanding tasks or doing nothing at all
4. REM sleep during incubation period shows an enhancement in
integrating unassociated information into creative problem solving
areas of the mind
Take it With a Grain of Salt
No previous study has directly compared the effects of incubation
intervals at varying levels of difficulty OR directly assessed the
occurrence of mind wandering during incubation in a single
from other studies that have been performed, there are at least 2
interpretations of the beneficial effects of light tasks:
1. easy tasks may allow greater opportunity to think about the
2. easy tasks may encourage global mental set that facilitates
creativity independently of any other benefit of incubation
Mind Wandering
Participants in the undemanding task condition reported greater mind
wandering, then participants in the demanding condition . Which
replicates findings that working memory load decreases the
frequency of mind wandering.
Related Exposure Condition
New Exposure Condition
Participants who
engaged in an undemanding task during the incubation interval
displayed significantly greater improvement in UUT
uniqueness scores for repeated-exposure problems compared
with participants who engaged in a demanding task a period of rest or
no break.
No significant difference was observed between participants
who received no break and those who engaged in an undemanding
task a demanding task, or rest Thus, there was no significant
incubation effect in
any incubation condition for the new-exposure problems.
Our data support the notion that specific types of unrelated thought
facilitate creative problem solving. Even though the act of encoding
information in working memory was unrelated to the solutions of the
creativity problems, no incubation effect was observed in the
demanding-task condition. Moreover, the undemanding-task condition
was not associated with increased frequency of thoughts explicitly
about the creativity problems, but was characterized by high levels of
mind wandering. Thus, our data indicate that creative problem
solutions may be facilitated specifically by simple external tasks.

1. Participants would exhibit more mind wandering in an interpolated
undemanding task than in an interpolated demanding task.
2. The creative benefits of incubation would be greater for
participants who engaged in the undemanding task than for
participants who engaged in the demanding task.
3. [Hypothesis 2] effect would not be attributable to a greater number
of explicit thoughts about the previously encountered problems.
4. Performance would selectively improve on repeated-exposure
problems following the undemanding task which would indicate that
the performance improvement resulted from an incubation process
rather than a general increase in creative problem solving.