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Verbal and visual divergent thinking in aging

Abstract

According to the peak and decline model divergent thinking declines at a specific age (in or after middle age). However, if divergent thinking declines steadily in aging still has to be clarified. In order to explore the age-related changes in verbal and visual divergent thinking, in the present study a sample of 159 participants was divided in five age groups: young adults (18–35 years), middle-aged adults (36–55), young old (56–74), old (75–85) and the oldest-old (86–98). Two divergent thinking tasks were administered: the alternative uses for cardboard boxes, aimed at assessing verbal ideational fluency, flexibility and originality; the completion drawing task, aimed at assessing visual ideational fluency, flexibility and originality. Results showed that after peaking in the young adult group (20–35 years) all components of verbal and visual divergent thinking stabilized in the middle-aged adult group (36–55 years) and then started declining in the young old group (56–75). Interestingly, all components were found to be preserved after declining. Yet, verbal and visual divergent thinking were found at the same extent across age groups, with the exception of visual ideational fluency, that was higher in the young old group, the old group and the oldest-old group than verbal ideational fluency. These results support the idea that divergent thinking does not decline steadily in the elderly. Given that older people can preserve to some extent verbal and visual divergent thinking, these findings have important implications for active aging, that is, divergent thinking might be fostered in aging in order to prevent the cognitive decline.

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Acknowledgements

Funding was provided by Fondazione Santa Lucia, Neuropsychology Unit, I.R.C.C.S.

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Correspondence to Massimiliano Palmiero.

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Palmiero, M., Nori, R. & Piccardi, L. Verbal and visual divergent thinking in aging. Exp Brain Res 235, 1021–1029 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-016-4857-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-016-4857-4

Keywords

  • Creativity
  • Novel idea-generation
  • Elderly