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EEG Brain Activity When Undergoing Divergent Thinking Test

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Published: 26th Jul 2021 in Psychology

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Research surrounding creativity in psychology can be considered a fairly young field. Up until the 1950s about only 0.2% of research papers dealt with creative imagination (Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009). Since then a steady increase in creativity research has been noted, and in fact, in the last 10 years around 10,000 papers have been written covering creativity across many fields (Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009). The general consensus reached by this vast amount of papers is that creativity can be defined as the tendency to solve problems or create new things in novel ways (Barron, 1955; Stein, 1953; Runco & Jaeger, 2012). To drive creativity, several cognitive processes are engaged such as creative thinking, including attention to action, response generation, action planning and monitoring as well as inhibition of repetitive responses (James & Frith 2002). As such, it has been noted that different brain regions appear to interact in these processes, indicating that creativity relies on distributed networks (Pinho, Manzano, Fransson, Eriksson & Ullén, 2014).

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To most of us, creativity is a feat that is held in the highest regard and if we go even further, musical creativity, perhaps, occupies the highest position amongst most forms of creativity. The reason for this is that music is an art shared by all human beings (Patel, 2010) due to the fact that music is often relatable and construed as a form of emotional expression (Patel, 2003). In addition to this, it has been noted in recent years that music can be considered to be an outstanding tool for improving fundamental understanding of the human brain, and many studies have investigated the relationship between music and the human brain (Zatorre 1998, Blood, 1999, Zatorre 2005, Koelsh 2006).

It has long been established that certain functions in our brain can be correlated to either the right or left hemisphere of the brain (Bogen, 1985). The former is largely known to govern creative and intuitive thinking as it is more conceptual, holistic, imaginative and non-verbal whilst the latter has largely shown to be more logical, analytic, quantitative as well as rational and verbal (Sperry, 1980). This theory is commonly known as lateralization of brain functions (Sperry, 1980). The theory further states that the two hemispheres do not act independent of each other but rather in conjunction. To mediate this, another important component comes into play called the corpus callosum responsible for linking the two together (Gotts, Wallace, Saad, Cox & Martin, 2013). In a resting state, the left hemisphere tends to be more active than the right. When undertaking a task which induces right-hemisphere activation and left-hemisphere deactivation, balance can be achieved allowing both hemispheres to be equally activated. This can be interpreted as having activated the right hemisphere more than the left. (Martindale, Hines, Michell & Covello, 1984)

As discussed in the opening paragraph, in order for creativity to be achieved several cognitive processes have to be engaged. Further research has shown that the process of creativity is a mental process utilizing all of the brain’s specialized capability. This process is therefore considered “whole brained”. However, there is a significant link to the right brain and this is clear due to specialized characteristics of the right hemisphere, such as curiosity, experimentation, solution finding and artistry. Martindale et al (1984) predicted and found that individuals who were highly creative would display greater EEG activity in the right-hemisphere than those who were considered to be less creative (Martindale et al, 1984). More recent studies have shown increases in activity in the frontal and posterior brain regions of the right hemisphere in participants who provided creative answers for an alternate uses task (Fink, Grabner, Benedek, Reishofer, Hauswirth & Fally, 2009).

Guilford (1976) proposed the concept divergent thinking, which refers to being able to create novel ideas by using creativity and exploring different solutions. Convergent thinking was also proposed by Guilford, this is the contrary of divergent thinking. It refers to the ability to think of the appropriate or correct answer to a problem or question. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) this research proposal will aim to pinpoint which area of the brain is most active when targeting creativity by comparing the differences in reaction to tasks between musicians and non-musicians. The hypothesis for the proposed study is that musicians will have greater EEG activity in the right hemisphere when undergoing a divergent thinking test.



The proposed study will use independent samples. A between-subjects design will be used in order to test EEG reaction to creativity tasks in musicians and non-musicians. This study will consist of one independent variable: musicians (highly creative) and non-musicians (less creative). The dependent variable will be the level of EEG activity caused by the creative thinking task.


The data to be collected for this proposed study will be from (N=60) participants. In respect to creativity, there will be an equal number of professional musicians (creative) and non-musicians (less creative). The type of sampling which will be employed is stratified sampling.


In order to test divergent thinking, participants will be asked to complete the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking: the ‘figural form’ and ‘thinking creatively with sounds and words’ (TCSW) (Torrance, Khatena & Cunningham, 1973). These tests assess additional dimensions of creativity, such as, emotional expressiveness and internal visualisation (Starko, 1995). A basic maths test will also be given to participants in order to compare EEG brain activity from a convergent and creative thinking task.

Following this, basic information such as, age, gender and level of qualification will be asked. Participants will also be asked to report whether they have had professional music training and the type of music they produce (instrumental, voice, etc.).

EEG was chosen for the proposed study since it will through event-related potential (ERP), allow brain functioning to be seen in real time. Participants will be given visual and auditory stimuli; electrical responses will be time-locked to the event. Peaks in ERP waveforms will show neural activities, pinpointing which area of the brain is most active. A limitation which may affect the proposed study is that although revealing mental status, EEGs are unable to provide understanding on how the brain processes stimuli or carries out tasks.

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Individuals who participate in the study will, at the beginning, be debriefed, asked to provide informed consent and report any previous or ongoing music studies. Participants will be asked to complete three tasks in total, one basic mathematics test and two tasks from the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) (Torrance et al, 1973). The basic maths test will be used as a comparison to the creative thinking tasks, in order to assess differences between waveforms when completing divergent and convergent thinking tasks. TCTT will assess their creativity and problem-solving skills. In the figural form, participants will be given starting shapes, such as a circle as stimuli, and will be asked to use or combine them to complete a different picture using abstract forms (Starko, 1995).

The task, Thinking Creatively with Sounds and Words (Torrance et al, 1973) provides participants with audio stimuli ranging from ordinary to abstract sounds, such as rain and a grand piano. Participants will not need to identify these sounds, but rather respond to the stimuli with words – this will be the indicator of creativity (Woodward & Sikes, 2015). Participants will have a 5-minute interval in-between tasks.

Before commencing the tasks, electrodes connected to the EEG recording machine will be placed on the scalp of the participants. The procedure itself will last for about 20-40 minuets. In order to record signals, similar studies which have focused on the EEG activity of left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere have placed two sets of bipolar electrodes over left and right parietal-temporal regions (Martindale et al, 1983). Feature extraction methods, such as EEG tomography (LORETA) will help pinpoint areas inside the brain which are active whilst participants are completing the tasks of creative thinking (Saletu, Anderer & Saletu-Zyhlarz, 2010). Once all three tasks are complete, the EEG activity will be analysed, and the localisation of the electrical activity should indicate which hemisphere of the brain was most active whilst participants were undertaking the tasks.


In order to maintain ethical consideration, participants will be debriefed and ensured that their information is kept confidential before giving formal consent. It will be explained to participants the use of an EEG and how it is carried out. They will be informed that the procedure will be painless and safe. Participants will be able to ask questions about any doubts they may have regarding the study. If required, participants may ask for longer breaks in-between tasks. The participant will be made aware of that if feeling the need to, they are able to leave the study and no longer participate.


In order to test for normality, a Kolmogorov-Smirnov test will be used. The occurring of a significant difference will result in the hypothesis being accepted and a t-test will be conducted for unrelated samples. However, it can be rejected no significant difference is found, leading to a Mann-Whitney U test.


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