Mindfulness and Creative Performance:
Effects of Brief and Sham Mindfulness Meditation on Insight Problem Solving.
Martin Walsh & John Greaney
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
Dissertation submitted as a requirement for the degree of BSc (Hons) Applied Psychology,
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology 2013.
Table of Contents
Abstract ________________________________________________________________________ 1!
1. Introduction ___________________________________________________________________ 2!
1.1 Creativity and Insight _________________________________________________________ 2!
1.2 Explaining Insight ____________________________________________________________ 3!
1.3 Mindfulness _________________________________________________________________ 4!
1.4 Explaining Mindfulness _______________________________________________________ 5!
1.5 Mindful Creativity ____________________________________________________________ 5!
1.6 The Current Study ____________________________________________________________ 6!
2. Methods ______________________________________________________________________ 8!
2.1 Design _____________________________________________________________________ 8!
2.2 Materials ___________________________________________________________________ 8!
2.2.1 Toronto Mindfulness Scale _________________________________________________ 8!
2.2.2 Positive and Negative Affect Schedule ________________________________________ 8!
2.2.3 Insight Problems _________________________________________________________ 8!
2.2.4 Internal consistency of measures _____________________________________________ 8!
2.2.5 Mindfulness Intervention __________________________________________________ 9!
2.2.6 Sham Mindfulness Meditation ______________________________________________ 9!
2.3 Participants _________________________________________________________________ 9!
2.4 Procedure __________________________________________________________________ 9!
3. Results ______________________________________________________________________ 11!
3.1 Descriptive Statistics ________________________________________________________ 11!
3.2 Inferential Statistics _________________________________________________________ 12!
3.3 Exploratory Analysis ________________________________________________________ 13!
4. Discussion ____________________________________________________________________ 16!
4.1 Practical and Theoretical Implications __________________________________________ 16!
4.2 Methodological Considerations ________________________________________________ 17!
4.2.1 Reliability of the Mindfulness Measure ______________________________________ 17!
4.2.2 Difficulty of Insight Problems ______________________________________________ 18!
4.3 Strengths and Limitations _____________________________________________________ 18!
4.4 Future Research ____________________________________________________________ 19!
4.5 Conclusion ________________________________________________________________ 19!
5. References ___________________________________________________________________ 21
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Table 1 - Mean state mindfulness, decentering and insight problem solving scores _______ 12
Table 2 - ANOVA Table _____________________________________________________ 15
Table 3 - Tukey HSD Comparisons ____________________________________________ 15
Table 4 - Pearson Correlations _______________________________________________ 16
List of Figures
Figure 1: Mindfulness as a single cyclic process of Intention, Attention and Attitude. _____ 5
Figure 1: An outline of the procedure implemented in the current study _______________ 10
Figure 2: Minimum, maximum and median problem scores across groups _____________ 12
Figure 3: Mean changes in state mindfulness levels between pre and post intervention ___ 13
Figure 4: Mean changes in decentering levels between pre and post intervention ________ 13
Creative performance has been identified as an important ability within academic and
professional settings alike. Individuals, who can perform effectively within complex,
dynamic and often ambiguous environments, are essential to organizations. The practice of
mindfulness has been linked to increases in creative performance, whereby flexibility, in
approach and appraisal, are paramount to finding effective solutions. The current study
investigates if the practice of brief mindfulness meditation can lead to an increase in
creativity ability, in the form of insightful problem solving. Placebo testing of mindfulness
was employed, using sham meditation, to investigate if a similar effect on creativity would
occur. Sixty participants completed a set of insight problem questions and repeated measures
of self-reported mindfulness were recorded. The findings suggest an increase in self-reported
mindfulness levels within the mindfulness and sham condition, however this did not equate to
an increase in creative performance for the sham condition. A placebo effect related to self-
reported mindfulness levels has been pointed to a possible explanation for the dissonance
between performance variances and self-report variances. Implications of the findings are
discussed, leading to suggestions for future research in the area.
Keywords: Creativity, insight, mindfulness, awareness, performance, decentering, meta-
Creativity in the areas of science, politics, and economics lead to the finding of
solutions that can aid the progression of humanity. As we move increasingly towards a
knowledge-based society, a greater understanding of creativity is required, should we wish to
harness its potentials (European University Association, 2007; Hennessey & Amabile, 2010).
Although the fostering of creativity within higher education has been identified as a key
factor for future progression, methods to enhance creative performance have been neglected
(European University Association, 2007). In academic and professional settings alike,
individuals face situations demanding novel solutions that require flexibility in thought and
behaviour (Gryskiewicz & Taylor, 2011). According to a survey carried out by IBM of more
that 1,500 chief executive officers worldwide, creativity and creative problem solving were
expressed as the most important qualities of a leader. The complex and dynamic working
environments these leaders work in require a high level of flexibility and innovation. Leaders
need to be able to be comfortable with ambiguity, where no clear path to the solution may be
apparent (Berman, 2010).
Often creative problem solving is needed within these environments, in cases where existing
strategies, may no longer provide an adequate path to a solution (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012).
As a mechanism of enhancement, mindfulness has been identified as a practical candidate,
due to its close relationship to creativity (see Langer, 1989; 1997). Mindfulness, and
mindfulness meditation allow the switching of attention to observing what is happening
inside, without attachment or reaction (Didonna, 2009). Through this process of detachment
from thought, one is no longer tied to habitual responding, based on prior knowledge, which
may hinder the creative process (Horan, 2009; McCaffrey, 2012; Ostafin & Kassman, 2012).
1.1 Creativity and Insight
Creativity has been defined in many ways within the literature, and much relates to creativity
as an ability that can be enhanced, through open-minded focus of attention
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Sternberg, 2006). Creativity in the form of problem solving is the
process by which an individual has to move from a problem state, to that of a goal state
(Runco, 2007), however not all problem solving requires creativity (Mayer, 1999). Torrance
(1988) suggests that creativity is required when an individual can no longer utilise learned or
practiced knowledge in order to reach a solution. An important aspect of creative problem
solving that has attracted much research is the aspect of insight (Weisberg & Alba, 1981;
Sternberg & Davidson, 1982; Schooler & Melcher, 1995). The term insight was first coined
by Gestalt psychology and refers to the sudden emergence of a problem’s solution into
conscious awareness, often referred to as the ‘aha’ moment (Runco, 2007). Mayer (1995)
offers a more testable definition, whereby insight occurs when an individual experiences a
state of knowing how to solve a problem, following a period of not knowing how to solve
that problem. Research has found physiological evidence of insight during problem solving,
in the form of distinct patterns of ‘feelings of warmth’ experienced by participants (Metcalfe,
1986; Metcalfe & Weibe, 1987). Incremental increases in these feelings were reported while
solving non-insight problems until a solution was found. However, during insight problem
solving, this feeling was experienced as sudden and without warning, coupled with a sense of
finding a solution.
1.2 Explaining Insight
Assessment using electroencephalogram (EEG) signals produced evidence of four distinct
components of insight problem solving. These were identified as a mental impasse followed
by restructuring of the problem, leading to a deeper understanding, and eventually sudden
conscious awareness of the solution (Sandkuhler & Bhattacharya, 2008). These findings have
offered neurological support for the representational change model of insight (Knoblich,
Ohlsson, Haider & Rhenius, 1999). The model explains insight as a change in the
representation of the problem that occurs when the individual relaxes, self-induced mental
constraints. According to the representational change model, a problem solver encounters an
impasse, as the initial representations of the problem interact with prior knowledge (Knoblich
et al., 1999). This interaction activates knowledge elements such as rules, concepts and
schemes, which are incongruent with the solution. The relaxation of constraints allows the
incongruous knowledge, which is held in working memory, to be exchanged for new
knowledge, facilitating the finding of a solution (Knoblich, Ohlsson & Raney, 2001). This
contrasts with non-insight problem solving, whereby previous knowledge is utilised in
finding a solution, for example in algebraic reasoning (Runco, 2007).
Functional fixedness is one way in which prior knowledge inhibits insight problem solving.
First discovered by Maier (1931), functional fixedness occurs when a solver fixates on an
object, or part of an object’s common use (Duncker, 1945). This reliance on prior knowledge
hinders the problem solving if the solution requires the object to be used in a dissimilar or
novel way. McCaffrey (2012) demonstrated that if obscure features of an object were
illustrated, thus raising their awareness of the current stimuli, the solver could see past their
prior knowledge of the object, and in turn find a solution, Jung-Beeman et al. (2004) found
greater increases in neural activity in the specific areas of the right hemisphere when
individuals found solutions to insight problems, compared to non-insight solutions. Their
research proposed that this activity represents the integration of connections, previously
discounted. Bowden, Jung-Beeman, Fleck and Kounios (2005) suggest weaker semantic
activation, within the right hemisphere may explain how alternative interpretations become
integrated, leading to the solution appearing into conscious awareness.
Mindfulness is represented well by the following definition: “a moment-to-moment, non-
judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention…in the present moment, and as non-
reactively as possible” (Kabat-Zinn, 2005, p. 108). Directly translated from Pali (an ancient
language used in Buddist scriptures), mindfulness (sati), means awareness, or skilful
attentiveness. It is used as a form of introspection within Buddhism, and allows the
cultivation of bias free, present moment awareness of thoughts and perceptions (Young,
1994). As a contrast to western science, Eastern philosophy concerned itself with the
metaphysical, stemming from their belief that all elements of existence, revolved around the
Through the use of attentional training (mindfulness meditation), Eastern philosophy
proposed that one could bring the entire body and mind under control, freeing one from
suffering and fear (Wallace, 1999). Western science utilises the Eastern mechanism of
mindfulness to alleviate mental and physical suffering in areas such as depression, anxiety,
addiction and chronic pain (McCracken, Gauntlett-Gilbert, & Vowles, 2007; Cohen & Miller,
2009; Goldin & Gross, 2010; Zeidan, Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010).
Mindfulness has also been shown to improve cognitive functioning in areas such as attention
and memory (Pagnoni & Cekic, 2007; Napoli, Krech & Holley, 2009; Buttle, 2011). Even
brief mindfulness interventions, can lead to positive changes in mental functioning (Erisman
& Roemer, 2010; Zeidan et al, 2010) as well as creative performance (Ostafin & Kassman,
1.4 Explaining Mindfulness
Based on research by John Kabat-Zinn, Shapiro, Carlson, Astin and Freedman (2005)
proposed a model of mindfulness consisting of three “axioms of mindfulness” (p. 3), which
are intention, attitude, and attention (see Figure 1). These three axioms of cognition exist in a
single simultaneously occurring cyclic process. Shapiro and colleagues’ model of proposes
that “intentionally, attending with openness and non-judgmentness” (p. 3), shifts ones
perceptions, in a process called reperceiving.
Figure 1: Mindfulness as a single cyclic process of Intention, Attention and Attitude.
Kocovski, Segal, and Battista (2009) suggest that the concepts of reperceiving and
decentering, as presented by Shapiro et al., all concern the ability to witness one’s thoughts
without perceiving them as reality. Safran and Segal (1990) define decentering as the ability
to “step outside of one’s immediate experience, thereby changing the very nature of that
experience” (p. 117) (as cited in Didonna, 2009). Decentering includes taking a present-
focused, non-judgmental, and accepting stance towards thoughts and feelings, which allows
an individual to act without reacting (Fresco, Segal, Buis & Kennedy, 2007).
1.5 Mindful Creativity
This new stance prosed by Fresco et al (2007) could prevent an individual from fixating on
mental concepts that hinder the search for new strategies, during the process of non-habitual
problem solving (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012). This loosening of mental concepts in order to
aid creative performance is congruent with research by Martindale (1990). Horan (2009)
proposed a neuropsychological connection between meditation and creativity, pointing to the
mechanism of mindfulness as a facilitator of creative performance. Horan also states that low
cortical arousal exhibited during mindfulness meditation in the presence of a open awareness,
leads to a reduction in habitual responding, thus allowing new information to be processed.
Colzato, Ozturk and Hommel (2012) account increases in creative thinking induced by
mindfulness meditation, to the open, non-fixated monitoring of thoughts and sensations. The
habitual mental processes associated with cognitive rigidly have been suggested to be linked
to psychopathologies such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
(Greenberg, Reiner & Meiran, 2012).
Mindfulness practice has been linked to a reduction in cognitive rigidity and increases in
cognitive flexibility (Langer, 1989; Moore & Malinowski, 2009; Greenberg et al., 2012).
Bishop et al. (2004) indicates that the practice of meditational mindfulness leads to an
induced “state of mindfulness”, enabling reflexive responding to situations. Horan (2009)
also states that mindfulness meditation, promotes cognitive flexibility, due to its detached
nature and has its ability to break down existing associations between thoughts. This
deconstruction of thought, through mindfulness can be seen as a type reappraisal (Cayoun,
2011), which Hayes-Skelton and Graham (2012) found is caused by decentering.
1.6 The Current Study
The current study aims to assess the influence of mindfulness meditation on creative
performance in the form of insight problem solving. Furthering research by Ostafin and
Kassman (2012), an attempt to identify cognitive flexibility, in the form of decentering, as a
possible mediator between mindfulness induction and insight problem solving. The present
study will also incorporate a second control group using an audio recording of a breathing
and relaxation technique as a form of placebo or sham meditation condition. The mindfulness
intervention used by Ostafin and Kassman (developed by Cropley, Ussher & Charitou, 2007)
will also be utilised in the present study, this was developed originally as a relaxation routine,
to curb craving in abstinent smokers. The use of a sham meditation will attempt to discount
the effect of becoming more relaxed or a belief that one is meditating. State mindfulness will
also be measured pre and post intervention, to ensure the effectiveness of the induction in
promoting mindfulness levels.
The research question in the present study enquires whether mindfulness can improve insight
problem solving, and is this improvement greater than any improvement after a sham
mediation intervention? Resulting from this question is a set of hypotheses that will assist in
finding an answer to the question at hand.
H1: There will be an overall difference in insight problem solving scores according to
condition (mindfulness, sham, control).
H1.1: There will be a difference in insight problem solving scores between the participants
in the sham mindfulness to those in the control condition.
H1.2: There will not be a difference in insight problem solving scores between the
participants in the sham mindfulness to those in the control condition.
H1.3: There will be a difference in insight problem scores between the participants in the
mindfulness condition to those in the sham condition.
The current study employed a fixed, between groups, experimental design. The dependent
variable measured was the problem solving scores. The independent variable was the
assignment of the participants into either a mindfulness, sham (placebo), or control condition.
2.2.1 Toronto Mindfulness Scale
The Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS; Lau et al., 2006; Appendix F) consists of 13 items and
contains two sub-scales; measuring curiosity and decentering, using a 5-point Likert scale
from 0 = not at all to 4 = very much. Sum scores are totalled from adding the 13 items up to a
score of 52. The scale assesses an individual’s mindfulness directly after meditation, and the
authors report strong construct validity. Erisman and Roemer (2010) and similarly Adams
(2011) presented the aforementioned scale as a manipulation check of a brief mindfulness
intervention. This scale will be used in the current study to measure pre and post intervention
scores of state mindfulness and decentering.
2.2.2 Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1998
Appendix D) is a 20-item scale, and comprises of two mood scales, one measuring positive
affect and the other negative affect. Each item is rated on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from
1 = very slightly or not at all to 5 = extremely which indicates how the respondent felt at that
current time. Only the positive mood scale was utilised in the present study.
2.2.3 Insight Problems
Insight problem solving ability was assessed with five insight problems taken from Schooler
et al. (1993) (No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6). Total insight problem solving performance was calculated
as a sum of correct answers with a possible range of 0-5. These problems were administered
as a paper based test (Appendix E).
2.2.4 Internal consistency of measures
Pre intervention: TMS: α = .898, Decentering (subscale of TMS) α = .772
Post intervention: TMS: α = .913, Decentering (subscale of TMS) α = .802, PANAS α = .904
2.2.5 Mindfulness Intervention
A ten-minute mindfulness meditation audio recording, developed by Cropley et al. (2007)
was used in the present study as a manipulator of state mindfulness levels. This audio
recording was found to be effective in manipulating self-reported levels of mindfulness in
previous studies (see Zabelina, Robinson, Ostafin & Council, 2011; Ostafin & Kassman,
2012). The mindfulness audio consisted of instructions asking listeners to bring their
awareness to sensations in the body, including from the breath, in a non-judgmental way (i.e.
to allow and accept all and any body sensations). Zabelina and colleagues point out that
paying attention to the breath can enhance one’s awareness to the transitional nature of inner
2.2.6 Sham Mindfulness Meditation
The purpose of this intervention was to examine whether a placebo mindfulness intervention
would affect insight problem solving performance, by inducing a meditative and relaxed
state. It consisted of a ten-minute instructional recording of a guided relaxation technique,
which involved concentrating on relaxing sounds while breathing deeply.
Sixty participants were recruited using a non-probability, convenience-sampling frame, from
an undergraduate psychology course. The participants were randomly assigned to one of
three conditions (mindfulness, sham and control). The sample ranged from 18 to 63 years (M
= 22.22, SD = 7.63), of which 20 were male and 40 female.
Participation in the current study lasted approximately 30 minutes overall, with testing taking
place over three separate test occasions. On each test occasion the participants were randomly
assigned to the three conditions (mindfulness, sham or control). After a written and oral
briefing, informed consent was obtained in a written format from each participant, along with
demographic information of age and gender. The participants were then asked to complete
the TMS based on their current state of mindfulness as a baseline measure of state
mindfulness. There was no time limit set for this, however no participant took more than five
minutes to complete the questions.
Upon completion of the TMS, participants were randomly assigned to one of the three
conditions and brought to separate rooms. Participants listened to one of the three 10-minute
audio recordings, mentioned above; depending on the condition they were assigned to. After
listening to the audio recording, participants reported their state mindfulness using the TMS
and positive affect using the PANAS. The participants were then administered the insight
problems in paper form. The participants were instructed that they had five minutes to
complete the problems on their own, and were informed when one minute remained.
3.1 Descriptive Statistics
Sixty participants were recruited for the present study, with no participants’ data needing to
be omitted. The data collected were analysed to investigate the effect of the three conditions
on the participants’ insight problem solving ability. Following this, explorative analysis was
conducted on data collected on the participants’ scores of state mindfulness and decentering,
insight problem solving and positive affect. IBM SPSS Statistics 21 was used for the
analysis, and presented below is an outline of the descriptive and inferential statistics of the
analysis. All data was screened for skewness and kurtosis (see Pallant, 2010), to which all
data, except insight problem-solving scores, were normally distributed. Participant’s mean
insight problem solving and positive affect scores, in addition to pre and post-intervention
state mindfulness and decentering scores are displayed in Table 1. Participants are grouped
according to the test conditions (higher scores indicate higher levels for all mean scores).
Note. a: n=20 b: n= 20 c: n=20 M = Mean SD = Standard deviation
Mean state mindfulness, decentering and insight problem solving scores
3.2 Inferential Statistics
The research question asked if mindfulness improves problem solving (H1.1), and whether
this improvement (if any) is more effective than a sham meditation technique (H1.2 & H1.3).
As insight problem solving scores showed a positive skewness, non-parametric analysis was
conducted. Differences between the three test conditions (mindfulness, sham, and control) on
median change of the number of insight problems solved, was evaluated through a Kruskal-
Wallis analysis of variance (ANOVA). The test, which was corrected for tied ranks, was
significant χ2(2, N = 60) = 7.70, p = .021 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Minimum, maximum and median problem scores across groups
As H1 was supported, follow-up analyses of pairwise difference were conducted to evaluate
differences among the three conditions, while controlling for Type I error across tests, by
using the Bonferroni approach. The results of these tests indicated a significant difference
between the mindfulness condition and both the sham (U=119.00, N1 = 20, N2 = 20, p = .028,
two tailed) and control (U=114.00, N1 = 20, N2 = 20, p = .020, two tailed), with no
significant difference between the sham and control conditions (U=192.00, N1 = 20, N2 = 20,
p = .841, two tailed). H1 and thus H1.1, H1.2 and H1.3 were all supported from these
findings, inferring a positive effect of mindfulness on insight problem solving, above that of
sham and control, and no performance increase exhibited by sham above control.
3.3 Exploratory Analysis
In order to understand the findings in terms of the mechanisms of mindfulness in
relation to insight problem solving, exploratory analysis was conducted. State mindfulness
and decentering scores were analysed to observe variances between the different conditions.
A set of one-way ANOVA’s was conducted (see Table 2) using post scores of state
mindfulness and decentering, as well as change scores (calculated by subtracting pre scores
from posts scores). Analysis revealed an overall difference between the three conditions in
both state mindfulness post and change scores. These differences were also found for both
decentering post and change scores, between the three conditions overall.
Figure 3: Mean changes in state mindfulness levels between pre and post intervention
Figure 4: Mean changes in decentering levels between pre and post intervention
MINDFULNESS SHAM CONTROL
MINDFULNESS! SHAM! CONTROL!
Post hoc analysis was conducted to detect paired differences between the conditions (see
Table 3). Both the mindfulness and sham condition were found to have significantly higher
scores in state mindfulness and decentering, for both post intervention and change scores. No
significant difference was found between the mindfulness and sham condition, in any of the
four analyses. These findings suggest that both the mindfulness and sham intervention
resulted in an increase self-reported state mindfulness and decentering, beyond the effect of
listening to a 10-minute audio (see Figures 3 and 4). It also suggests that mindfulness
meditation was no more effective than sham mindfulness meditation in increasing self-
reported levels of state mindfulness or decentering.
Note: ∗ Indicates significance (significant at p<0.05 level)
Mindfulness Post - Pre
Decentering Post - Pre
Note. ∗ Indicates significance (significant at p<0.05 level).
1. Mindfulness Post Test Scores
Mindfulness vs Control
Sham vs Control
Mindfulness vs Sham
2. Change in Mindfulness Post – Pre Scores
Mindfulness vs Control
Sham vs Control
Mindfulness vs Sham
3. Decentering Post Test Scores
Mindfulness vs Control
Sham vs Control
Mindfulness vs Sham
4. Change in Decentering Post – Pre Scores
Mindfulness vs Control
Sham vs Control
Mindfulness vs Sham
Tukey HSD Comparisons
Correlational analysis was also conducted to identify any significant relationships between
variables (see Table 4). The correlations suggest a strong relationship between positive affect
and self-reported post intervention scores for both state mindfulness and decentering. In
addition, a strong relationship between positive affect and the change scores of both state
mindfulness and decentering. However, there was no significant relationship found between
insight problem solving and self-reported levels of state mindfulness or decentering.
*Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
C = Condition, IP = Insight Problems, PA = Positive Affect,
MD = State Mindfulness Post – Pre, DD = Decentering Post - Pre
M1 & M2 = State Mindfulness Pre & Post, D1 & D2 = Decentering Pre & Post
Mindfulness and creativity have been identified as two important areas of current research, as
well as being closely interlinked. Ostafin and Kassman (2012) suggest there is sparse
empirical research in existence that examines the relationship between mindfulness and
creativity. The current study aimed to further existing research on the topic, by examining the
relationship through experimental design. In addition, mechanism(s) that may facilitate
mindful-creativity, such as relaxation, decentering of thought, and positive affect were
assessed. After examining existing research, the current study appears to be the first to utilise
a sham mindfulness group as a means of discounting relaxation as a mediator of creative
The results show that mindfulness; in the form of brief mindfulness meditation can positively
influence creative performance on insight problem tasks. The mindfulness condition
performed significantly better than sham and control conditions, while the sham condition, as
predicted, failed to perform better than control. This suggests that the mechanism(s) by which
mindfulness affects creativity goes beyond its relaxation inducing property. Manipulation
checks of state mindfulness and decentering showed that pre and post scores of state
mindfulness increased for both the mindfulness and the sham conditions, with a slight
decrease in control. For decentering the same pattern emerged, with the sham conditions
performing better than control and mindfulness and significant differences between
mindfulness and control.
No significant relationship was found between insight problem solving performance and state
mindfulness, decentering or positive affect. However a strong positive relationship was found
between positive affect and state mindfulness, as well as decentering. Consequently, neither
state mindfulness, nor decentering could be inferred to mediate the relationship between
mindfulness and insight problem solving ability. A placebo effect within the sham condition,
related to self-reported state mindfulness levels could explain the dissonance between
creative performance variances and self-reported mindfulness variances.
4.1 Practical and Theoretical Implications
The greater performance on insight problem solving demonstrated by the mindfulness
condition, provides further evidence of the positive effect of brief mindfulness training on
creative performance, supporting findings by Ostafin and Kassman (2012). By demonstrating
that this increase goes beyond a relaxation effect, or some other effect that may occur by the
practice of meditation, the power of mindfulness can be observed. These findings are akin to
those of Colzato et al. (2012) who reported that mindfulness had a greater affect on creativity
levels than focused-attention meditation, or baseline relaxation techniques. Colzato and
colleagues also draws the conclusion that specific types of meditation have an effect on
creativity, and that this effect goes beyond mere relaxation. As the finding of the current
study show that short mindfulness practice, can lead to increases in creative performance,
utilization of this method in academic and professional settings could prove to aid situations
which require creativity. Neither mindfulness nor decentering could be identified,
empirically, as mediators of the influence of mindfulness on insight problem solving. These
findings may have been due to the participants’ expectancies of the effect of the intervention,
within the placebo condition.
4.2 Methodological Considerations
4.2.1 Reliability of the Mindfulness Measure
Decentering levels post-intervention were high in the mindfulness group; this was discounted
by the finding that the sham condition reported similarly high levels. A similar pattern was
also found for overall state mindfulness levels for participants within the mindfulness and
sham conditions. Although the TMS showed strong internal validity in both pre and post state
mindfulness and decentering scores, issues with the wording of questions, may have proved
problematic for a population that may not have been experienced meditators. Grossman
(2008) points out that words like “noticing” may have a different meaning for experienced
versus non-experienced meditators. Statements such as “I experienced myself as separate
from my changing thoughts and feelings” and “I was curious about what I might learn about
myself by taking notice of how I react to certain thoughts, feelings or sensations” could be
confusing for participants who may not have connected to concepts such as awareness or
meta-cognition, in the form of decentering.
With only minute increases in internal validity pre and post intervention, it is difficult to infer
the occurrence of a practice effect, in aiding understanding of the questions on those grounds.
The rephrasing of terminology within the TMS, or further explanations of terminology and
concepts may help control for differences in the participants’ experience levels. Another
inference could be a possible active placebo effect within the placebo condition affecting
their decision making, in regards to their perceived state mindfulness and decentering levels
(see Atlas, Wager, Dahl & Smith, 2009). This change could have been due to expectancy of
the participants in regards to the effect of the intervention, whereby participants believed they
were receiving mindfulness meditation, and therefore expected to become more mindful.
Testing of physiological changes between participants, of aspects such as galvanic skin
response or brain activity may help control for issues inherent in self-reporting. The use of a
different state mindfulness scale, or more than one scale, may assist in clarifying issues with
individual self-reporting measures.
4.2.2 Difficulty of Insight Problems
The research presented by Otasfin and Kassman (2012) reported a mean of .945 out of 3
(31.5%) for insight problems scores, however, the current study has presented a mean of 1.13
(22.8%). In comparison, the results of current study may suggest that the test used was too
complex. Research by Chronicle et al. (2001) report that insight problem tasks are often so
complex that tests yield null to very low score rates. Furthermore, MacGregor and
Cunningham (2008) argue the necessity of an improved rating of difficulty system and the
introduction of easier insight problems, in order to alleviate issues currently in existence.
4.3 Strengths and Limitations
A major strength of the current research is the level of standardisation implemented against
the previous research by Ostafin and Kassman (2012) by utilising the same audio recording
and problem tasks. This allowed the current study to evaluate previous findings on a different
sample, while comparing the findings to a placebo condition. Insight problem solving was
successfully manipulated through a mindfulness intervention, and not through the sham
mindfulness intervention. This finding strengthens previous research by Ostafin and
Kassman, which suggests mindfulness as enhancer of insight problem solving ability.
One imminent limitation of the current study was the use the Toronto Mindfulness Scale,
which its authors (Lau et al., 2006) have pointed out that while the scale has been shown to
detect mindfulness levels, single point testing may fail to detect mindfulness levels every
time. Lau and colleagues suggest multiple testing periods, in order to account for the failing
of single point detection. Future testing may assess state mindfulness levels on a minimum of
two occasions, post intervention, as utilised by O’Cleirigh (2012).
Two limitations in regard to sampling are that of the sampling frame used, and the sample
size itself. As non-probability convenience sampling was employed in the current study,
caution should be taken when generalising the results beyond a healthy, undergraduate
population. Future research may try to test a larger sample, and utilise a probability-sampling
method, thus increasing external validity, and in affect, making the results generalisable to a
As with most experiments, issues with ecological validity arise when generalising results to
non-paper based problem tasks. A future direction could be to monitor the effect of
mindfulness on creative performance, for ‘real-world’ problems, such as academic or
professional projects, which require creative problem solving. The addition of a pre
interventional baseline measure of creative problem solving ability could strengthen the
assumption that, performance differences between the conditions, were due to the effect of
the intervention(s) (Fisher & Foreit, 2002).
4.4 Future Research
As no evidence could be found of a direct relationship between mindfulness and problem
solving within the current study, further research is required. Research should attempt to
identify exact mechanisms that could mediate this relationship, should a greater
understanding be achieved. The use of different measures of both mindfulness and creativity
may also broaden the currently constricted amount of research that exists within this area. In
addition, supplementary research that compares mindfulness, or other types of meditation to
cognitive performance, may aid in gaining a deeper understanding of the exact mechanisms
that are interacting, in cases where performance can be increased. Controlling for expectancy
of the intervention’s effect, as demonstrated by Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, and Ostergren
(2012), is suggested in order to filter out possible placebo effects.
A firm link has been established between mindfulness and creativity, whereby flexible, non-
habitual modes of consciousness provide an individual with a means of accessing more
perspectives. Mindfulness is a rapidly growing field of research and this is primarily due to a
wide range of health and performance benefits that have been observed in its presence. The
current research helped demonstrate one of those benefits, in the form of creative
performance. However, as research in this area is sparse, investigation into this dense and far-
reaching topic has only just begun. Further research into the field of mindfulness, creativity,
and connections between to the two, may be of huge benefit to academia and professionals
alike. The present study suggests care should be applied when using single self-reported
measures as the only method of measuring manipulation, especially in the presence of a
placebo condition. Increases in creative performance may assist institutes to remain flexible,
responsive and competitive, especially in a volatile economic environment.
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