Fixation, Flexibility, and Forgetting During Alternate Uses Tasks

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Divergent thinking tasks such as the alternate uses task (AUT) require overcoming dominant and common ideas, as well as ideas that are initially generated. The initial generation of familiar uses can create mental fixation, which makes it even more difficult to reach novel ideas. Manipulations that utilize task switching can sometimes help people break free from mental fixation. In the present studies, a new version of the AUT was created involving the generation of one use for each of 10 objects (multi-item), which was contrasted with the traditional construction in which people generated 10 uses for just one object (single-item). Across two experiments, a benefit of the multi-item task construction was observed. People were more flexible in the multi-item condition, the ideas they generated were more novel, and they arrived at novel ideas sooner. Additionally flexibility predicted novelty in the single-item but not the multi-item AUT. Participants were also prompted to recall their first idea following idea generation. Again, it was specifically in the single-item condition in which people who were more flexible were less likely to recall their first idea. This suggests that the multi-item AUT may reduce the difficulty associated with inhibiting old ideas and switching to new perspectives.

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