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WA Lunch Talk: How a second language context lowers cognitive interference during creative ideation in bilinguals

WA Lunch Talks are monthly meetings with presentations of current research results or research in progress by WA faculty, staff, or PhD  students. We welcome all to a new talk in the series.

How a second language context lowers cognitive interference during creative ideation in bilinguals

Rafał Jończyk

Wednesday 13 December 2023, 1:15–2:15 p.m.

Sala Górna, Collegium Heliodori Święcicki


The Alternate Uses Task (AUT) is a well-established creativity assessment, where participants propose alternative uses for common items within a 2-3 minute timeframe. While convergent thinking may play a role, the primary emphasis is on divergent thinking. In a series of experiments, we examined the significance of cue type (presenting either a word or a word overlapping an image) and the balance between divergent thinking (idea generation) and convergent thinking (idea selection) in the first and second language context. In the first two behavioural experiments aimed to test and develop an adapted version of AUT, native Polish speakers randomly allocated to experimental groups were asked to suggest unconventional uses for everyday items in two situations: (1) cue word shown with or without a corresponding image (Experiment 1), and (2) instruction to either produce as many ideas as possible within two minutes (List) or to report a single best idea after each of three 30-second ideation cycles (Cycle; Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, word+image prompts increased idea fluency but reduced idea originality and variability, improving AUT baseline. In Experiment 2, idea originality did not differ between List and Cycle condition overall, but the first three ideas in List were rated as less creative than the ideas in Cycle, due to involvement of convergent thinking. We show that using disambiguating images reduces spurious interindividual variability in the AUT while introducing a convergent thinking component in the task allows us to assess creativity beyond ideation. In a third experiment, we utilised word+image prompts and the cyclic procedure in the modified AUT to compare creative output in the two languages of Polish(L1)-English(L2) bilinguals who underwent EEG recording. We show that Polish-English bilinguals suffer less cognitive interference when generating unusual uses for common objects in L2 than the L1, without incurring a significant drop in idea originality. Right posterior alpha oscillation power, known to reflect creative thinking, increased over cycles and showed greater power in L1 Polish in the lower band (8-10 Hz). Unexpectedly, we also found greater beta desynchronization in L2 than L1 suggesting that bilingual participants suffered less interference from competing mental representations when performing the task in the L2.

About the author

Rafał Jończyk

Dr Rafał Jończyk is an Assistant Professor and the director of the Psychophysiology of Language and Affect (PoLA) laboratory at the Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland. He is also the Governing Board Chair of the Cognitive Neuroscience Center at Adam Mickiewicz University. Rafał is passionate about the human mind and brain and how it makes sense of the world. His research primarily focuses on the brain dynamics of comprehension and production of emotional content in bilinguals as well as neural correlates of creative thinking in monolingual and bilingual speakers.