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08-01-2022 | Original Article Open Access

Motor restrictions impair divergent thinking during walking and during sitting

Psychological Research
Supriya Murali, Barbara Händel
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Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-021-01636-w.

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Creativity, specifically divergent thinking, has been shown to benefit from unrestrained walking. Despite these findings, it is not clear if it is the lack of restriction that leads to the improvement. Our goal was to explore the effects of motor restrictions on divergent thinking for different movement states. In addition, we assessed whether spontaneous eye blinks, which are linked to motor execution, also predict performance. In experiment 1, we compared the performance in Guilford’s alternate uses task (AUT) during walking vs. sitting, and analysed eye blink rates during both conditions. We found that AUT scores were higher during walking than sitting. Albeit eye blinks differed significantly between movement conditions (walking vs. sitting) and task phase (baseline vs. thinking vs. responding), they did not correlate with task performance. In experiment 2 and 3, participants either walked freely or in a restricted path, or sat freely or fixated on a screen. When the factor restriction was explicitly modulated, the effect of walking was reduced, while restriction showed a significant influence on the fluency scores. Importantly, we found a significant correlation between the rate of eye blinks and creativity scores between subjects, depending on the restriction condition. Our study shows a movement state-independent effect of restriction on divergent thinking. In other words, similar to unrestrained walking, unrestrained sitting also improves divergent thinking. Importantly, we discuss a mechanistic explanation of the effect of restriction on divergent thinking based on the increased size of the focus of attention and the consequent bias towards flexibility.

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