Ill-Defined Problem Solving Does Not Benefit From Daytime Napping

Front Psychol. 2020 Apr 9;11:559. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00559. eCollection 2020.


The main goal of the present study was to explore the role of sleep in the process of ill-defined problem solving. The results of previous studies indicate that various cognitive processes are largely dependent on the quality and quantity of sleep. However, while sleep-related memory consolidation seems to be well-grounded, with regard to the impact of sleep on problem solving, existing research yields mixed and rather inconclusive results. Moreover, this effect has been mainly tested using simple and well-defined, common laboratory problems, such as the remote associate test (RAT), crossword and anagram puzzles, numeric and logic problems, etc. What is lacking is research on the effect of sleep on solving more complex and more real-life oriented ill-defined problems. In the present study, we hypothesized that sleep can improve performance in solving this kind of problems. The study involved 40 participants, randomly assigned to two experimental conditions: sleep group and waking group. The experimental protocol comprised three stages: problem presentation, retention interval, and testing stage. The problem was presented to the participants in the form of an interactive computer game concerning a complex, elaborate crime story. During the retention interval, the participants-depending on the condition-took a nap or stayed awake; sleeping participants underwent polysomnography recording, while waking participants performed activities not related to the experimental problem. In the testing stage, participants tried to solve the presented problem. The solutions generated were assessed both for quality (reasonableness, consistency, and story recall) and creativity (fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration). Contrary to expectations, we found no effect of sleep on ill-defined problem solving. Neither quality nor creativity of the solutions generated by the participants was higher in the nap group than in the waking group. There were also no performance improvements with regard to any sleep stage or incidence of dreams. Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that sleep probably might provide an incubation gap, but not a facilitating environment serving the purpose of problem solving, at least with regard to ill-defined problems.

Keywords: creative reasoning; divergent thinking; ill-defined problems; nap; problem solving; sleep sleep/wake cognition.