The Relationship Between Improvisation and Cognition
“After the group had played [improvisation] game[s]…colours became brighter, people and spaces seem of a different size, focus is sharper. Our normal thinking dulls perception…” Keith Johnstone (1979, pg. 131) Improvisation is considered to be both the process and product of creativity. It involves the creation of new ideas, on the spur of the moment that are novel and unplanned. Spontaneity, the ability to do something on the spot with no prior preparation is seen as a key element of improvisation and distinction in relation to creativity. The process of improvisation involves thinking in different ways and as a result, could influence our thought processes. It is important to note here that while we are interested in the process of improvisation, it is only possible to measure this through the product. The product is therefore seen as a direct outcome of the process of thinking that occurs during improvisation. It has been suggested that improvisation could relate to cognitive processes (Karakelle, 2009; Schmidt, Goforth & Drew, 1975; Scott, Harris & Rothe, 2001). This program of research therefore aims to identify the cognitive changes in relation to the process of improvisation. This is measured by looking at cognitive tasks pre and post improvisation. Several studies were therefore conducted investigating the effects of improvisation on various cognitive abilities, with a focus on differences between divergent and convergent thinking; (i) the Effect of Verbal Improvisation on Mood, Creativity and Cognition; (ii) verbal improvisation in relation to divergent and convergent thinking; (iii) dance improvisation in relation to divergent and convergent thinking; (iv) Divergent thinking; Differences among expert and novice improvisers and (v) length of Treatment; Cognitive effects following a shorter improvisation treatment length. As a result of the above experiments, results were extended to a clinical sample of Parkinson’s disease. An extensive investigation was also carried out investigating the scoring of method of the Alternative Uses Task (AUT; Guilford, 1957b). Furthermore, the level of cognitive load as a result of improvisation was investigated by observing gesture in improvisation. Taken together, results showed that after a series of verbal improvisation activities, participants improved in scores of divergent thinking tasks. However, this was not observed in scores of convergent thinking tasks. Issues surrounding reliability of the scoring method of the AUT were also discussed. However, this did not affect the consistency of the results observed in this program of research. A theory of schemas was applied to the process of improvisation as a result of the cognitive changes that occured, such that improvisation helps people think in more original and flexible ways by improving access to schemas and working memory.