Variation in Divergent Thinking, Executive-Control Abilities, and Mind-Wandering Measured in and Out of the Laboratory

Rebekah M. Rodriguez-Boerwinkle, Matthew S. Welhaf, Bridget A. Smeekens, Rachel A. Booth, Thomas R. Kwapil, Paul J. Silvia, Michael J. Kane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individual differences in executive functions (or executive control abilities) predict variation in creative thinking ability. Relatedly, propensity for mind-wandering–or task unrelated thought–has been gaining attention among creativity scholars, but its effects on creativity remain unclear. The present study conceptually replicates and extends recent laboratory and experience-sampling work to assess the links between individual differences in divergent thinking, executive control abilities (working memory capacity and attention control), and measures of mind-wandering collected in both contexts. SEM analyses indicated that executive control factors weakly predicted divergent thinking scores, mainly due to their role in filtering out uncreative ideas rather than generating highly novel ones. Lab-based measures of mind-wandering didn’t significantly correlate with overall creative thinking, challenging the idea that mind-wandering uniformly enhances creativity, but they were positively linked to highly creative divergent thinking scores. Daily-life measures of mind-wandering, meanwhile, did not provide stronger predictive insights into creative thinking than lab measures. Finally, exploratory analyses found that divergent thinking scores based on highly creative responses were positively associated with episodes of more fantastical, unrealistic mind-wandering, or “daydreaming.” We end our investigation with a call for greater theoretical precision and some hypotheses to guide future work. [Data, scripts, and preprint:×/].

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCreativity Research Journal
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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