Mental and perceptual feedback in the development of creative flow

Genevieve M. Cseh, Louise H. Phillips, David G. Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Sketching is considered by artists and designers to be a vital tool in the creative process. However, research shows that externalisation during the creative process (i.e., sketching) is not necessary to create effectively. This study examines whether sketching may play a more important role in the subjective experience of creativity by facilitating the deeply focused, optimal state of consciousness termed 'flow' (being 'in the zone'). The study additionally explored whether sketching affects flow by easing cognitive load or by providing a clearer sense of self-feedback. Participants carried out the creative mental synthesis task (combining sets of simple shapes into creative drawings), experimentally simulating the visual creative process. Ideas were generated either mentally before committing to a final drawing, or with external perceptual support through sketching, and cognitive load was varied by using either three- or five-shape sets. The sketching condition resulted in greater experience of flow and lower perceived task difficulty. However, cognitive load did not affect flow and there was no interaction between load and sketching conditions. These findings are the first to empirically demonstrate that sketching increases flow experience, and that this is not dependent on an associated reduction in overall working memory load.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-161
Number of pages12
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Early online date21 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Flow
  • visual creativity
  • Externalisation
  • mental synthesis
  • working memory


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