Two studies used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine whether and how divergent thinking and creative achievement are linked to attentional flexibility and cognitive control as indexed by response times and by the amplitude of the anterior N2 ERP component. Both experiments used an oddball paradigm in which participants viewed hierarchical letter stimuli and identified target letters in frequent and rare target trials. The successful identification of targets required attentional flexibility when switching levels of attention (from the frequent global to the rare local attentional level, or vice-versa). Divergent thinkers showed smaller switching times on rare target trials, indicating higher levels of attentional flexibility. Furthermore, divergent thinkers engaged cognitive control processes more strongly at the moment of the attentional switch (and before the response), as indicated by a larger N2 difference between frequent and rare targets. In contrast, creative achievement was associated with neither the switching times on rare target trials, nor with a larger N2 difference between frequent and rare targets. All results held when controlling for general intelligence. Results from these studies provide evidence that divergent thinking is associated with higher attentional flexibility and that such attentional flexibility relies on cognitive control processes required when disengaging from one level of attention (e.g., global), and shifting to the other level of attention (e.g., local).



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School of Psychology


ERP, N2, attention, cognitive control, creativity, divergent thinking