Mathematical Creativity: Incubation, Serial Order Effect, and Relation to Divergent Thinking

AbstractThe current study explored whether creative processes— specifically incubation and the serial order effect— extend to creativity in mathematics, and if there is a relation to divergent thinking. A total of 155 postsecondary students completed an unusual use task and a multiple-strategy math task. Participants were given 8 minutes to generate as many strategies as they could for the math task, and then after a brief break, were given another problem with the same underlying structure for 4 minutes. We find evidence for a serial order effect in math, whereas across trials it became more difficult for participants to generate a new strategy, but the strategies were rated as more creative. The brief break also provided some evidence of incubation, as there was a boost in the number of overall strategies and creativity. We also found that divergent thinking and mathematical creativity were significantly related.

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