Exercise and Creativity: Can One Bout of Yoga Improve Convergent
and Divergent Thinking?
Kathleen F. Donnegan
Andrew P. Allen
Received: 5 January 2018 /Accepted: 22 May 2018 /Published online: 1 June 2018
Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018
While creativity is a vastly debated topic, little research has been dedicated to determining whether exercise can boost cognitive
factors associated with creativity, such as divergent thinking. Yoga, as a form of exercise, comprises physical activity and open-
monitoring meditation, which may increase divergent thinking. We compared performance on a test of divergent thinking in
healthy adults, the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA), and one test of convergent thinking and field independence, the
Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT), before and after one session of ashtanga yoga, and one session of aerobic exercise.
Divergent thinking was not affected by either intervention overall; however, fluency of novel ideas generated was reduced post-
intervention in both groups. Practice effects were registered for the convergent thinking task, and those in the yoga group
performed better at this task both at baseline and following yoga, although yoga did not lead to a greater change from baseline
performance. The current findings do not suggest that one bout of yoga is associated with an immediate cognitive benefit.
However, further research is required onto whether long-term yoga practice may enhance divergent thinking.
There is an established link between cognitive performance
and physical exercise (Colcombe and Kramer 2003;Hillman
et al. 2008; Kelly et al. 2014). Whether one bout of exercise
can provide immediate cognitive benefits remains a debated
topic (Chang et al. 2012; Ferris et al. 2007;O’Brien et al.
2017; Tomporowski 2003). Creativity is crucial in many ap-
plied settings, and a key psychological factor underlying in-
novation (e.g. Marrocu and Paci 2012; Williams and McGuire
2010;butcf.Allen2011; Cropley et al. 2010); therefore, it is a
topic of central concern for cognitive enhancement to deter-
mine whether a more creative mental state can be obtained,
even for a brief period, with short interventions such as one
bout of exercise.
There is some evidence that aerobic exercise can enhance
performance on creative thinking tasks (e.g. Blanchette et al.
2005; Colzato et al. 2013; Steinberg et al. 1997); however, the
relationship between exercise and creativity is still
Meditation is emerging as a creativity-enhancing practice
(Colzato et al. 2012; see also review by Lippelt et al. 2014,see
also Lebuda et al. 2016). Open-monitoring meditation in-
volves the monitoring of awareness itself, as opposed to fo-
cussed attention meditation, which involves maintaining at-
Hommel 2017). Evidence suggests that open-monitoring
meditation enhances divergent thinking, while focussed atten-
tion mediation enhances convergent thinking (Colzato et al.
2012). Intuitive/associative thinking and logical/analytical
thinking can both play a role in creative thought (Allen and
Thomas 2011), and shifting between the two may be key to
creative performance (Sowden et al. 2015) depending on the
task at hand. Further, these two modes of thought may be
associated with breadth of attention, with the analytical style
being associated with focussed attention and the intuitive style
with a wider breadth of attention (e.g. Howard-Jones 2002).
Breadth of attention may impact upon creative thinking
(Kasof 1997); in fact, Colzato et al. (2012) suggested that
* Andrew P. Allen
School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork,
Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co.
Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (2018) 2:193–199