Charting the contributions of cognitive flexibility to creativity: Self-guided transitions as a process-based index of creativity-related adaptivity

Yihan Wu, Wilma Koutstaal

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1 Scopus citations


Creativity is pivotal to solving complex problems of many kinds, yet how cognitive flexibility dynamically supports creative processes is largely unexplored. Despite being a crucial multi-faceted contributor in creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, as typically assessed, does not fully capture how people adaptively shift between varying or persisting in their current problem-solving efforts. To fill this theoretical and methodological gap, we introduce a new operationalization of cognitive flexibility: the process-based Self-Guided Transition (SGT) measures, which assess when participants autonomously choose to continue working on one of two concurrently presented items (dwell length) and how often they choose to switch between the two items (shift count). We examine how these measures correlate with three diverse creativity tasks, and with creative performance on a more complex "garden design" task. Analyses of the relations between these new cognitive flexibility measures in 66 young adults revealed that SGT dwell length positively correlated with creative performance across several tasks. The SGT shift count positively correlated with within-task performance for a two-item choice task tapping divergent thinking (Alternative Uses Task) but not for a two-item choice task calling on convergent thinking (Anagram task). Multiple regression analyses revealed that, taken together, both the shift count and dwell length measures from the Alternative Uses Task explained a significant proportion of variance in measures of fluency, and originality, on a composite measure of the three independently-assessed creative tasks. Relations of SGTs to the Garden Design task were weaker, though shift count on the Alternative Uses Task was predictive of a composite measure of overall Garden Design quality. Taken together, these results highlight the promise of our new process-based measures to better chart the dynamically flexible processes supporting creative thinking and action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0234473
JournalPloS one
Issue number6 June
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2020 Wu, Koutstaal. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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