Attention, associative learning and creativity

Exploring learning about non-informative cues and how this relates to measures of creative thinking.


  • Experimental Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Creative Arts
  • Humanities

Associative learning refers to learning of associations within our environment. It has great survival value as it allows us to anticipate events and conserve resources. While it is important to learn what signals the occurrence of events, it is equally important to learn to ignore information that is irrelevant. Interestingly, it has been found that individuals scoring high on measures of creative achievement and personality will show less reduction in learning for non-informative stimuli as indicated findings using latent inhibition tasks (Carson, Peterson, & Higgins, 2003; Kéri, 2011; Meyersburg, Carson, Mathis, & McNally, 2014; Peterson, Smith, & Carson, 2002).

The current focus of my project is blocking (Kamin, 1969), another paradigm of associative learning related to non-informative stimuli. Blocking refers to reduced learning seen for a novel stimulus (blocked cue) that is paired together with a stimulus within a previously established stimulus-outcome association (blocking cue). Given the aforementioned link between measures related to creativity and latent inhibition, a relationship between blocking and creativity-related measures may be expected.

I am conducting experimental research using human participants; I also plan to be using eye-tracking as a measure of visual attention, which I hope will provide further insights into the process of learning to ignore irrelevant cues and how this may be linked to creativity-related measures.

For an informal summary of my project please see the following 2 minute video:


Carson, S. H., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2003). Decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high-functioning individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(3), 499–506.

Kamin, L. J. (1969). Predictability, surprise, attention, and conditioning. In B. A. Campbell & R. M. Church (Eds.), Punishment and Aversive Behaviour (pp. 279–296). New York: Appleton Century Crofts.

Kéri, S. (2011). Solitary minds and social capital: Latent inhibition, general intellectual functions and social network size predict creative achievements. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 5(3), 215–221.

Meyersburg, C. A., Carson, S. H., Mathis, M. B., & McNally, R. J. (2014). Creative histories: Memories of past lives and measures of creativity. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1(1), 70–81.

Peterson, J. B., Smith, K. W., & Carson, S. (2002). Openness and extraversion are associated with reduced latent inhibition: replication and commentary. Personality and Individual Differences, 33(7), 1137–1147.

Research Fellow
Tara Zaksaite

Peter M Jones, Chris Mitchell, Hannah Drayson, Martha Blassnigg, Stephen Hall (Plymouth University)

Further Reading
  • Dietrich, A. (2004). The cognitive neuroscience of creativity. Psychonomic  Bulletin & Review, 11, 1011–1026. doi:10.3758/BF03196731
  • Kruschke, J. K., & Blair, N. J. (2000). Blocking and backward blocking involve learned inattention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 7(4), 636–645. doi:10.3758/BF03213001
  • Mitchell, C.J., De Houwer, J., & Lovibond, P.F. (2009). The propositional nature of human associative learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 183-246. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09000855
  • Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN:978-0199737574
  • Uengoer, M., Lotz, A., & Pearce, J. M. (2013). The fate of redundant cues in human predictive learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 39(4), 323-333. doi:10.1037/a0034073