LSD and creativity: Increased novelty and symbolic thinking, decreased utility and convergent thinking

This double-blind placebo-controlled study (n=24) assessed the impact LSD (50μg) has on measures of creativity. Near peak drug effects, participants were given a number of creative tasks to complete. Creativity was then assessed by scoring creativity criteria, calculating divergent thinking and convergent thinking, computing semantic distances and searching for data-driven special features. Compared to placebo, LSD changed several creativity measurements pointing to pattern break, disorganization and meaning which seemed to fundamentally influence creative cognition and behaviour.

Abstract

“Background: Controversy surrounds psychedelics and their potential to boost creativity. To date, psychedelic studies lack a uniform conceptualization of creativity and methodologically rigorous designs.

Aims: This study aimed at addressing previous issues by examining the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on creativity using multimodal tasks and multidimensional approaches.

Methods: In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, 24 healthy volunteers received 50 μg of LSD or an inactive placebo. Near drug peak, a creativity task battery was applied, including pattern meaning task (PMT), alternate uses task (AUT), picture concept task (PCT), creative metaphors task (MET) and figural creativity task (FIG). Creativity was assessed by scoring creativity criteria (novelty, utility, surprise), calculating divergent thinking (fluency, originality, flexibility, elaboration) and convergent thinking, computing semantic distances (semantic spread, semantic steps) and searching for data-driven special features.

Results: LSD, compared to placebo, changed several creativity measurements pointing to three overall LSD-induced phenomena: (1) ‘pattern break’, reflected by increased novelty, surprise, originality and semantic distances; (2) decreased ‘organization’, reflected by decreased utility, convergent thinking and, marginally, elaboration; and (3) ‘meaning’, reflected by increased symbolic thinking and ambiguity in the data-driven results.

Conclusion: LSD changed creativity across modalities and measurement approaches. Three phenomena of pattern break, disorganization and meaning seemed to fundamentally influence creative cognition and behaviour pointing to a shift of cognitive resources ‘away from normal’ and ‘towards the new’. LSD-induced symbolic thinking might provide a tool to support treatment efficiency in psychedelic-assisted therapy.”

Authors: Isabel Weißner, Marcelo Falchi, Lucas O. Maia, Dimitri Daldegan-Bueno, Fernanda Palhano-Fontes, Natasha L. Mason, Johannes G. Ramaekers, Madeleine E. Gross, Johnathan W. Schooler, Amanda Feilding, Sidarta Ribeiro, Draulio B. Araujo & Luis F. Tófoli

Notes

Creativity and psychedelics have long been intertwined. From psychedelic art to psychedelic rock, these substances are believed to possess the inherent ability to inspire creativity once consumed. With The Beatles, Star Wars creator George Lucas and even Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs believed to have experimented with LSD, one must wonder could their creative success be linked to the use of psychedelics. The exact link between creativity and the use of psychedelics remains speculative at best and researchers are continuing to explore this avenue of psychedelic science.

The present paper used multimodal tasks and multidimensional approaches to assess the effects LSD has on creativity. Participants (n=24) were randomized and given either LSD (50 μg, low-medium dose) or an inactive placebo in a double-blind fashion. Near peak-drug experience, participants were given a range of tests including pattern meaning task (PMT), alternate uses task (AUT), picture concept task (PCT), creative metaphors task (MET) and figural creativity task (FIG). Creativity was then measured by scoring creativity criteria and calculating divergent/convergent thinking. The researchers break down their findings on a number of different levels.

The main findings:

  • LSD, compared to placebo, changed creativity on several levels and seemed to elicit two opposing phenomena of ‘pattern break’, reflected by increased novelty (PMT), surprise (PMT), originality (FIG) and semantic distances (PMT), and decreased ‘organization’, reflected by decreased utility (PMT), convergent thinking (PCT) and, marginally but consistently across tasks.
  • On a phenomenological level, LSD increased novelty and surprise and decreased utility of responses, indicating that responses were more remote and nonobvious but also ‘chaotic’ and less useful, while there was no change in the amount of highly creative responses.
  • On a cognitive level, LSD increased title originality (FIG), while other originality parameters did not survive correction for multiple testing or remained unchanged.
  • On a semantic level, LSD increased PMT semantic spread and semantic steps indicating a random semantic spread of ideas.
  • On a behavioural level, metaphor and drawing content under LSD exhibited tendentially fewer objects, pointing to a weak but cross-modal phenomenon.
  • On an ontological level, symbolic thinking and ambiguity emerged as the most noticeable data-driven features. LSD increased metaphor and drawing ambiguity pointing to a crossmodal feature.

The present study sought to assess how psychedelics, in this case, LSD, alter creativity across a number of levels. LSD changed several creativity measurements pointing to pattern break, disorganization and meaning which seemed to fundamentally influence creative cognition and behaviour. Ultimately, the author’s findings suggest that “psychedelics may not merely disrupt cognitive-behavioural processes ‘away from normal’, but relocate them ‘towards the new’.

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Study details

Compounds studied
LSD

Topics studied
Creativity

Study characteristics
Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind

Participants
24 Humans

Compound Details

The psychedelics given at which dose and how many times

LSD 50 μg | 1x
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