Flexible or leaky attention in creative people? Distinct patterns of attention for different types of creative thinking

Darya Zabelina*, Arielle Saporta, Mark Beeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Creativity has been putatively linked to distinct forms of attention, but which aspects of creativity and which components of attention remains unclear. Two experiments examined how divergent thinking and creative achievement relate to visual attention. In both experiments, participants identified target letters (S or H) within hierarchical stimuli (global letters made of local letters), after being cued to either the local or global level. In Experiment 1, participants identified the targets more quickly following valid cues (80 % of trials) than following invalid cues. However, this smaller validity effect was associated with higher divergent thinking, suggesting that divergent thinking was related to quicker overcoming of invalid cues, and thus to flexible attention. Creative achievement was unrelated to the validity effect. Experiment 2 examined whether divergent thinking (or creative achievement) is related to “leaky attention,” so that when cued to one level of a stimulus, some information is still processed, or leaks in, from the non-cued level. In this case, the cued stimulus level always contained a target, and the non-cued level was congruent, neutral, or incongruent with the target. Divergent thinking did not relate to stimulus congruency. In contrast, high creative achievement was related to quicker responses to the congruent than to the incongruent stimuli, suggesting that real-world creative achievement is indeed associated with leaky attention, whereas standard laboratory tests of divergent thinking are not. Together, these results elucidate distinct patterns of attention for different measures of creativity. Specifically, creative achievers may have leaky attention, as suggested by previous literature, whereas divergent thinkers have selective yet flexible attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)488-498
Number of pages11
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Attentional flexibility
  • Cognitive control
  • Creative achievement
  • Creativity
  • Divergent thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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