Creative Cognition as a Bandit Problem

This paper characterizes creative cognition as a multi-armed bandit problem involving a trade-off between exploration and exploitation in sequential decisions from experience taking place in novel uncertain environments. Creative cognition implements an efficient learning process in this kind of dynamic decision. Special emphasis is put on the optimal sequencing of divergent and convergent behavior by showing that divergence must be inhibited at one point to converge toward creative behavior so that excessive divergence is counterproductive. We test this hypothesis in two behavioral experiments, using both novel and well-known tasks and precise measures of individual differences in creative potential in middle and high school students. Results in both studies confirmed that a task-dependent mix of divergence and convergence predicted high performance in a production task and better satisfaction in a consumption task, but exclusively in novel uncertain environments. These predictions were maintained after controlling for gender, personality, incentives, and other factors. As hypothesized, creative cognition was shown to be necessary for high performance under the appropriate conditions. However, it was not necessary for getting high grades in a traditional school system.

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