Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Divergent thinking in intelligence analysts: An empirical study of incubation and predictors

Technical Report
Research Area: 
Cognitive Neuroscience

Intelligence analysts often encounter texts and other source materials that pose a problem for which there is no single clear solution due to the presence of massive ambiguity, missing pieces of information, active attempts at distortion, and continuous changes in the relevant background information. Divergent thinking - the cognitive ability to generate as many useful solutions to a problem as possible - is essential for coping with this cognitive challenge. Our research examined divergent thinking as a problem-solving tool for language analysts and the conditions for optimally engaging divergent thinking. Specifically, we examined the effect of an incubation period—that is, time spent away from thinking about a problem—and whether it would improve participants’ ability to generate solutions using divergent thinking. We also explored whether a participant’s divergent thinking ability may be predicted by various cognitive tests: passage comprehensions, fluid intelligence (i.e., abstract reasoning), and creative convergent thinking (i.e. finding a new link among several seemingly unrelated words). This research was motivated by two major considerations: improving analysts’ divergent thinking performance, considered a priority in the intelligence community, and by a lack of published research examining the effects of problem incubation in intelligence analysts. To enable an examination of the robustness of effects in individuals with post-secondary education, university students were tested as well. The ultimate goal of this research on divergent thinking was to identify tools that help enhance the cognitive flexibility of the analytic workforce.