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Keywords:

  • creativity;
  • idea generation;
  • idea selection;
  • odor;
  • sleep;
  • unconscious

Summary

Both scientists and artists have suggested that sleep facilitates creativity, and this idea has received substantial empirical support. In the current study, we investigate whether one can actively enhance the beneficial effect of sleep on creativity by covertly reactivating the creativity task during sleep. Individuals’ creative performance was compared after three different conditions: sleep-with-conditioned-odor; sleep-with-control-odor; or sleep-with-no-odor. In the evening prior to sleep, all participants were presented with a problem that required a creative solution. In the two odor conditions, a hidden scent-diffuser spread an odor while the problem was presented. In the sleep-with-conditioned-odor condition, task reactivation during sleep was induced by means of the odor that was also presented while participants were informed about the problem. In the sleep-with-control-odor condition, participants were exposed to a different odor during sleep than the one diffused during problem presentation. In the no odor condition, no odor was presented. After a night of sleep with the conditioned odor, participants were found to be: (i) more creative; and (ii) better able to select their most creative idea than participants who had been exposed to a control odor or no odor while sleeping. These findings suggest that we do not have to passively wait until we are hit by our creative muse while sleeping. Task reactivation during sleep can actively trigger creativity-related processes during sleep and thereby boost the beneficial effect of sleep on creativity.