An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation can promote divergent thinking, a crucial aspect of creativity, finds research published in the journal Frontiers in Cognition (Colzato et al., 2012).
Divergent thinking is the kind which is often used at the start of the creative process, in which new ideas are generated.
The typical psychological test of divergent thinking asks participants to name as many uses as they can for a mundane object like a brick or a pen.
In the study by Dr. Lorenza Colzato and colleagues, participants who’d been meditating in an ‘open monitoring’ style came up with the most uses for the mundane object.
An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation is where you don’t focus on a particular object or sensation, such as your own breath; rather you pay attention to whatever thoughts or sensations you are experiencing at the time.
The results are fascinating because the study of how meditation affects creativity has had mixed results over the years.
Part of the problem is that there are many different types of creativity and many different types of meditation, which are not often delineated by the studies.
However, this is not the only study to make finer distinctions and show the benefits of meditation for creativity.
A study by Ren et al. (2011) has looked at another crucial area of creativity: problem-solving.
This requires different skills because it’s about gaining a vital insight into a problem that’s already defined.
In this study, people were given insight problems to try and solve.
The results showed that, compared with a control group, those who learned a simple meditation technique, involving focusing on the breath, solved more of the insight problems.
Benefits of meditation
Together these two studies suggest that different types of meditation may be useful for different aspects of creativity.
For generating new ideas, an open monitoring style performs best, then for solving an existing problem, a more focused attention style provides the best results.
It also may begin to show why the previous studies on the connection between meditation and creativity have provided such mixed results.
→ Read on: the benefits of meditation.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Nadir Hashmi