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Divergent thinking: Strategies and executive involvement in generating novel uses for familiar objects


Correspondence should be addressed to K. J. Gilhooly, School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts., AL10 9AB, England, UK (e-mail:


Although the Alternative Uses divergent thinking task has been widely used in psychometric and experimental studies of creativity, the cognitive processes underlying this task have not been examined in detail before the two studies are reported here. In Experiment 1, a verbal protocol analysis study of the Alternative Uses task was carried out with a Think aloud group (N = 40) and a Silent control group (N = 64). The groups did not differ in fluency or novelty of idea production indicating no verbal overshadowing. Analysis of protocols from the Think aloud group suggested that initial responses were based on a strategy of Retrieval from long-term memory of pre-known uses. Later responses tended to be based on a small number of other strategies: property-use generation, imagined Disassembly of the target object into components and scanning of Broad Use categories for possible uses of the target item. Novelty of uses was particularly associated with the Disassembly strategy. Experiment 2 (N = 103) addressed the role of executive processes in generating new and previously known uses by examining individual differences in category fluency, letter fluency and divergent task performance. After completing the task, participants were asked to indicate which of their responses were new for them. It was predicted and found in regression analyses that letter fluency (an executively loading task) was related to production of ‘new’ uses and category fluency was related to production of ‘old’ uses but not vice versa.