The relationships between musical expertise and divergent thinking

Massimiliano Palmiero, Paola Guariglia, Rosalia Crivello, Laura Piccardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Musical expertise has positive effects on cognition, especially on verbal and linguistic processing. In this study the relationships between musical expertise, not involving improvisation training, and divergent thinking were explored. Expert and self-taught musicians were tested in musical, verbal and visual divergent thinking, and were compared with a group of non-musicians in verbal and visual divergent thinking. The musical task required to generate many different pieces of music using the incipit of ‘Happy Birthday’ as a starting point; the verbal task required to list unusual uses for a cardboard box; the visual task asked to complete drawings adding details to basic stimuli. For each task fluency flexibility and originality scores were measured. Based on these scores, musical, verbal and visual creative indices were computed. In general, expert musicians showed higher creative indices in musical and verbal domains than self-taught musicians and in verbal creative index than non-musicians. No group difference was found in terms of visual creative index. These findings confirm that musical expertise enhances not only musical divergent thinking but also verbal divergent thinking, probably supporting the semantic associative modes of processing and improving verbal working memory, which facilitates the online recombination of information in new ways. This effect seems to be specifically supported by formal musical training. The lack of the association between musical expertise and visual divergent thinking, as well as future research directions, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102990
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Composition
  • Creativity
  • Divergent thinking
  • Domain-specificity
  • Expertise
  • Memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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