Tackling creativity at its roots: evidence for different patterns of EEG α activity related to convergent and divergent modes of task processing

Int J Psychophysiol. 2012 May;84(2):219-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2012.02.012. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


The distinction between convergent and divergent cognitive processes given by Guilford (1956) had a strong influence on the empirical research on creative thinking. Neuroscientific studies typically find higher event-related synchronization in the EEG alpha rhythm for individuals engaged in creative ideation tasks compared to intelligence-related tasks. This study examined, whether these neurophysiological effects can also be found when both cognitive processing modes (convergent vs. divergent) are assessed by means of the same task employing a simple variation of instruction. A sample of 55 participants performed the alternate uses task as well as a more basic word association task while EEG was recorded. On a trial-by-trial basis, participants were either instructed to find a most common solution (convergent condition) or a most uncommon solution (divergent condition). The answers given in the divergent condition were in both tasks significantly more original than those in the convergent condition. Moreover, divergent processing was found to involve higher task-related EEG alpha power than convergent processing in both the alternate uses task and the word association task. EEG alpha synchronization can hence explicitly be associated with divergent cognitive processing rather than with general task characteristics of creative ideation tasks. Further results point to a differential involvement of frontal and parietal cortical areas by individuals of lower versus higher trait creativity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Creativity*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Word Association Tests*