TaVNS Encourages Divergent Thinking in Healthy Volunteers

Kristen Sparrow • January 26, 2018

Acupuncture to decrease stress
Kuan Yin who hears the cries of the world

2018 Jan 8.

Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) enhances divergent thinking.

Author information

Leiden University, Cognitive Psychology Unit & Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden, The Netherlands; Department of Cognitive Psychology, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany; Institute for Sports and Sport Science, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany. Electronic address: colzato@fsw.leidenuniv.nl.
Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Leiden University, Cognitive Psychology Unit & Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Creativity is one of the most important cognitive skills in our complex and fast-changing world. Previous correlative evidence showed that gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is involved in divergent but not convergent thinking. In the current study, a placebo/sham-controlled, randomized between-group design was used to test a causal relation between vagus nerve and creativity. We employed transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), a novel non-invasive brain stimulation technique to stimulate afferent fibers of the vagus nerve and speculated to increase GABA levels, in 80 healthy young volunteers. Creative performance was assessed in terms of divergent thinking (Alternate Uses Task) and convergent thinking tasks (Remote Associates Test, Creative Problem Solving Task, Idea Selection Task). Results demonstrate active tVNS, compared to sham stimulation, enhanced divergent thinking. Bayesian analysis reported the data to be inconclusive regarding a possible effect of tVNS on convergent thinking. Therefore, our findings corroborate the idea that the vagus nerve is causally involved in creative performance. Even thought we did not directly measure GABA levels, our results suggest that GABA (likely to be increased in active tVNS condition) supports the ability to select among competing options in high selection demand (divergent thinking) but not in low selection demand (convergent thinking).