The time-course and quality of ideation: singular tasks, sequential tasks and support for well-formed ideas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Ideation is described as the process of generating useful ideas to help reach a specific goal or outcome. It is one of the task types with the longest standing roles in experimental studies of creativity. Despite being a well studied concept, many aspects of the cognitive processes underpinning ideation are poorly understood. A main model of thinking that is referred to when looking at ideation studies is the concept of Search for Ideas in Associative Memory (SIAM), which suggests that ideas are generated in semantically related clusters, due to
the way we synthesise these ideas from memory. The SIAM model of thinking is likened to that of information foraging theories in this thesis, which forms the basis for our studies. In this thesis we investigate the time-course pattern of idea generation in an ideation task and ask whether we can find any influences on this. In particular, we look to classic stopping heuristics to try to explain the time-course of ideas across a continuous single question ideation task and the giving-up strategies used in a multiple sequential question ideation task. Throughout the work presented in this thesis, we ran into methodological problems with inter-rater disagreement between coders rating the sets of ideas on commonly used
metrics such as novelty and value, as well as classifying ideas in semantic
categories. The second area we investigate in this thesis is whether we can support ideation in such a way that judgement of ideas becomes more reliable.
We ran three ideation studies in order to develop theory in support of applications to assist in the ideation process. In our first study, we looked at continuous ideation across a single ideation task. Key findings from this study showed a weak verification of semantic clustering of ideas generated, however, we were able to replicate main effects others had found using this method. In the second study, we looked at ideation across multiple questions. Our key finding directly mirrors that found in other (non-ideation) studies on discretionary task switching: people combine rate of return and sub-goal completion as strategies for abandoning a task. In the third study, we addressed the issues of low inter-rater agreement
by performing simple instructional manipulations for ideators. Key findings show a that the use of thematic roles have a positive effect on judged value of ideas. Novelty judgement agreement was also positively affected, although this was seen across conditions.
Although a lot more research is required in order to fully understand the cognitive processes in ideation, we hope that this work shows that by detailed experimental analysis of ideation we might learn some possible interface interventions through which ideators might be supported.
Date of Award20 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorStephen Payne (Supervisor) & Eamonn O'Neill (Supervisor)

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