Research Article: How minimal executive feedback influences creative idea generation

Date Published: June 29, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Hicham Ezzat, Anaëlle Camarda, Mathieu Cassotti, Marine Agogué, Olivier Houdé, Benoît Weil, Pascal Le Masson, Mark A. Runco.


The fixation effect is known as one of the most dominant of the cognitive biases against creativity and limits individuals’ creative capacities in contexts of idea generation. Numerous techniques and tools have been established to help overcome these cognitive biases in various disciplines ranging from neuroscience to design sciences. Several works in the developmental cognitive sciences have discussed the importance of inhibitory control and have argued that individuals must first inhibit the spontaneous ideas that come to their mind so that they can generate creative solutions to problems. In line with the above discussions, in the present study, we performed an experiment on one hundred undergraduates from the Faculty of Psychology at Paris Descartes University, in which we investigated a minimal executive feedback-based learning process that helps individuals inhibit intuitive paths to solutions and then gradually drive their ideation paths toward creativity. Our results provide new insights into novel forms of creative leadership for idea generation.

Partial Text

Fixation effects [1] have always been recognized as among one of the most important barriers to creativity. Over the past decades, numerous cognitive science studies have underlined the obstructive function against creative ideation of the spontaneous activation of known solutions and knowledge in individuals’ minds. These studies have demonstrated that previously acquired knowledge in individuals’ minds fixate them and consequently restrain their aptitude for the generation of creative ideas [2].

The findings of the present study showing that congruent executive feedbacks increase creative ideas generation are in accordance with those of previous studies in that feedbacks in general, and more precisely executive feedbacks, can strongly influence and regulate the creative performances of individuals [24]. Moreover, these findings are consistent with those of the majority of studies that have argued that the delivery of constructive feedback can positively influence creativity [25–28] and extend previous findings by demonstrating that such constructive feedbacks can assume simpler forms, such as elementary and minimal guiding instructions (e.g., instructions such as “continue in this path” and “search for another path”). Such feedback requires minimal effort from the instructor given that he has the capacity to approximately recognize the frontier between fixation and expansion.

In conclusion, our results clearly demonstrate that incongruent feedback reduces individuals’ creative performances by decreasing the generation of ideas outside fixation and increasing the generation of ideas inside fixation. In contrast, congruent feedback enhances individuals’ creative performances by increasing the generation of ideas outside fixation and decreasing the generation of ideas inside fixation. Finally, the process of the generation of ideas inside fixation is much more free-flowing that the process of the generation of ideas outside fixation, which confirms that the generation of ideas inside fixation requires less effort and is more automatic and intuitive according dual-process model of creativity. As such, it is notable that these results provide new insight into research on the modeling of new forms of creative leadership from a learning perspective in which creative leaders could have an influence on their followers’ creativity level based on cognitive approaches to idea generation that involves influencing the followers’ cognitive reasoning rather than influencing other aspects related to creativity (such as intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, creativity-supportive environment, etc.) [35, 36].




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