Nature with Tea

Drinking tea improves the performance of divergent creativity

Creativity is generally considered the human capacity to create original and useful ideas to solve problems (Runco & Jaeger, 2012). Creativity can be classified into two detailed and testable components: convergent and divergent thinking (Guilford, 1967). Convergent thinking is a cognitive process involved in solving a certain problem with only a single solution (Zmigrod, Colzato, & Hommel, 2015). Divergent thinking is the ability to offer unlimited solutions to a single problem and is the key component of creativity (Vincent, Decker, & Mumford, 2002).

The Remote Associates Test (Mednick, 1962) is the typical measurement of convergent thinking creativity. In this test, participants are given three words, such as “blue”, “cake”, and “cottage”, and are required to give the solution word that is associated with these three words (“cheese”). The Alternative Uses Task (Guilford, 1967) is the typical measurement of divergent thinking creativity. In this task, participants must generate as many ideas as possible about the usages of a certain object, such as “brick” or “pen”.

According to Hommel (2012), convergent creativity and divergent creativity requires different cognitive control either. Convergent creativity needs strong top-down control which focuses on the search for one idea with well-defined search criteria, whereas divergent creativity needs weak top-down control such that one can switch from one idea to another idea within broad search span with less defined search criteria. Applying this strong/weak top-down cognitive control, one would expect that tea’s effect on attention brings strong degree of top-down cognitive control, and in turns improve convergent creativity performance. Actually, Isen, Labroo, and Durlach (2004) tested the relationship between iced tea and convergent creativity. They used the Remote Associates Test (Mednick, 1962) to measure convergent creativity. They found that participants who drank iced tea gave more correct answers in the Remote Associates Test than those who drank water. Einöther et al. (2015) also examined tea’s positive effect on convergent creativity with RAT, showing that those who prepared and drank tea performed significantly better than those who drank water in high difficult level of RAT.

Researchers have also begun to investigate the effect of tea on divergent creativity. To date, only one study has tested this association. Einöther et al. (2015) used the alien drawing task (Ward, Patterson, & Sifonis, 2004) as the measure of divergent creativity and recruited regular tea consumers as participants. However, they did not find a significant effect of tea on divergent creativity performance. The purpose of the current paper is to uncover the relationship between tea and divergent thinking creativity.

Our belief in the relationship between tea and divergent thinking creativity is based on several inferences and evidences. Colzato, Ozturk, and Hommel (2012) investigated the improvement of creativity task performance through meditation and found that meditation based on open monitoring helped to enhance divergent creativity performance. During open-monitoring meditation, one is open to perceive and observe any sensation or thought without focusing on a concept in the mind or a fixed item (Colzato et al., 2012, p1). The essence of meditation is relaxation, and the essence of open-monitoring meditation is “open”, “accepting myself as I am”, which is much similar to tea’s recovery effect from stress (Steptoe et al., 2007). Therefore, one would expect that tea would promote divergent creativity because of its function of promoting relaxation (Dietz & Dekker, 2017) just as meditation does.

A possible mechanism of tea’s effect on divergent creativity can be traced to Einöther et al. (2015)’s work, which suggested that preparing and drinking tea can promote positive affect, increasing valence of mood during and immediately after tea consumption (within 10 min from preparing stage). Positive affect is beneficial for creativity (Baas, Dreu, Carsten, & Nijstad, 2008). Therefore, these authors hypothesized that the mechanism of tea’s effect on improving creativity is through increased mood valence. In other words, tea consumption is predictive of improved creativity through increased valence of mood.

However, Einöther et al. (2015) did not find empirical support for their assumption for divergent creativity. Although we agree with their reasoning, we believe that their failure to find an effect of tea on divergent thinking creativity is due to the experimental paradigm. Testing the effect of tea on divergent thinking requires a selection of suitable cognitive tasks that encourage and allow multiple solutions rather than a unique solution. Moreover, the performance of the selected cognitive task should not be restrained by other skills that are not related to divergent thinking. Although an alien drawing task may test divergent thinking (Ward et al., 2004), it requires drawing skills that are unrelated to creativity.

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