What are the benefits of mind wandering to creativity?

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Abstract
A primary aim of mind-wandering research has been to understand its influence on task performance. While this research has typically highlighted the costs of mind wandering, a handful of studies have suggested that mind wandering may be beneficial in certain situations. Perhaps the most-touted benefit is that mind wandering during a creative-incubation interval facilitates creative thinking. This finding has played a critical role in the development of accounts of the adaptive value of mind wandering and its functional role, as well as potential mechanisms of mind wandering. Thus, a demonstration of the replicability of this important finding is warranted. Here, we attempted to conceptually replicate results of a highly cited laboratory-based experiment supporting this finding. However, across two studies (N = 443), we found no evidence for the claim that mind wandering during a creative-incubation interval facilitates a form of creativity associated with divergent thinking. We suggest that our failed conceptual replication stems from an inadequate characterization of mind wandering (task-unrelated thought), and that there are good reasons to think that task-unrelated thought is unlikely to be causally related to creativity. Our results cast doubt on the claim that task-unrelated thought during an incubation interval enhances divergent creativity while also offering some prescriptions for how future research might further elucidate the cognitive benefits of mind wandering.
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Archival date: 2021-07-03
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2021-07-03

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