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University of Amsterdam researchers and a fellow researcher from the University of Groningen have discovered that people are more creative if they have a larger working memory. The findings are due to be published shortly in the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

During the research study led by Professor Carsten de Dreu, the participants carried out creative activities during several experiments. They had to think of creative solutions to complex issues or think of original ideas during a brief brainstorm session. In one of the experiments semi-professional cellists were asked to play a few short improvisations, the originality of which was later assessed.

It emerged that when the participants had to multi-task, which temporarily overburdened their working memory, they were no longer able to come up with creative solutions. It furthermore emerged that semi-professional cellists came up with less creative improvisations, the less working memory they had available. Lastly, people with a larger working memory devised more original ideas during the brainstorm session.

University of Amsterdam researchers and a fellow researcher from the University of Groningen have discovered that people are more creative if they have a larger working memory. This part of the human brain is involved in the conscious thought processes and is needed to store information temporarily in order to process it in a controlled manner. This research study refutes the notion that creativity is mainly a spontaneous, subconscious process. The findings are due to be published shortly in the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Although the subconscious processes certainly play a role, the researchers have concluded that working memory and conscious thought are a key condition for thinking and acting creatively. A larger working memory enables people to store information longer, combine it and work more effectively too. In order to be creative it is important not to overburden the human working memory with irrelevant tasks and to avoid as much as possible everything that would constrain our working memory, such as fatigue and time pressure.

Creative experiments

During the research study led by Professor Carsten de Dreu, the participants carried out creative activities during several experiments. They had to think of creative solutions to complex issues or think of original ideas during a brief brainstorm session. In one of the experiments semi-professional cellists were asked to play a few short improvisations, the originality of which was later assessed.

It emerged that when the participants had to multi-task, which temporarily overburdened their working memory, they were no longer able to come up with creative solutions. It furthermore emerged that semi-professional cellists came up with less creative improvisations, the less working memory they had available. Lastly, people with a larger working memory devised more original ideas during the brainstorm session.