The Heart's Hand in Creativity:
The Effect of Coherence™ Meditation

Beau D. Kissler
Christina M. Frederick

Sierra Nevada College

Key Words: Affect, Appreciation, Biofeedback, Coherence, Creativity, EmWave, Experimental, Meditation


The Coherence Technique™ is meditation wherein individuals generate positive feelings (e.g., appreciation) while attending their heart area (McCraty & Childre, 2002). Positive emotions improve creativity (Magno, 2011; Kauffman, 2003) and adaptive problem solving (Friedman, Förster, & Denzler, 2007). Coherence is expedited when monitoring progress using the Institute of HeartMath's biofeedback device, the EmWave Desktop Monitor™ (McCraty, 2002). The current study examines the relationship between meditation and creativity. 43 undergraduates, aged 18-30, were assigned to 1 of 3 groups (non-, medium-, and high-coherence). The non-coherence group completed an intellectually demanding academic test prior to a 10-minute creativity test focused on unique idea generation (Macleod, 2009). Medium- and high-coherence participants were trained using the quick coherence technique and an EmWave™ biofeedback monitor. The medium-coherence group included participants who could not maintain high coherence for 3 minutes, uninterrupted. Participants who could maintain high coherence for 3 minutes, qualified for the high-coherence group. Immediately after coherence training, medium- and high-coherence participants completed the creativity test. Creativity test performance was categorized by coherence group. Differences in median test scores between these groups were assessed using the non-parametric alternative to the one-way ANOVA, the Kruskal-Wallis (Ryan & Joiner, 2005). Results show no significant difference (H = .66, p = .882) in creativity between coherence groups. Although short-term meditation does not increase creativity, these results encourage use of longitudinal designs when researching wellness practices.


Humanity is dawning upon a new way of living—a new way of relating to our world. According to Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, western civilization is transforming into a new type of society demanding more creative minds (Pink, 2005). The last half-century has been dominated by analytical thinkers such as lawyers for writing contracts, MBAs for accounting, and computer programmers for writing code (Pink, 2005). However, the computers these professions birthed, along with the outsourcing phenomenon, are, now, replacing these jobs (Pink, 2005). Pink noted, "The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and emphasizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers . . . these people will reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys" (Pink, 2005, p. 1). For a person to adapt and be successful in today's shifting society, it is suggested processing by our brain's right hemisphere be treated with equal attention, if not more, than the left hemisphere (Mujumdar, 2013). Mujumdar suggested many of the leading contributors to advancement in society, including avatars such as Beethoven, Da Vinci, Edison, Curie, and Picasso, were fluent in utilizing both hemispheres of their brain (Mujumdar, 2013). Cultivating this type of processing could, potentially, spur further societal development in our world (Zeng, Proctor, & Salvendy, 2011). Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned leader in this movement toward manifesting more creativity in societies around the world, strongly suggested we create atmospheres in our schools and work places that nurture creativity on a daily basis (Robinson, 2009). Encouraging activities, learning methods, and work that activates and permits processing in both brain hemispheres may enhance human potential for creativity. 

The current study focused on the impact of positive emotions on creativity. In his review of psychological experiments regarding affect and creativity, Kauffman (2003) stated there is overwhelming evidence of positive moods increasing creativity and creative problem solving skills. This supported our general interest in this area of study.

Friedman, Förster, and Denzler (2007) showed that people who are in a serious (i.e., focused, strict) mood while taking a creativity test scored well only on tests conveyed as serious, while those in a positive mood scored equally well and higher on creativity tests conveyed as serious and non-serious. These results suggested people are more creative and adaptive when in a positive mood, despite task framing (Friedman et al., 2007).

Talarico, Berntsen, and Rubin (2009) conducted a study in which participants were asked to recall negative and positive autobiographical memories and, then, identify the details remembered as either central or peripheral to the memory. Positive memories were accompanied by significantly more peripheral details (Talarico et al., 2009). Ultimately, Talarico et. al (2009) showed positive emotions facilitate more holistic memory. Holistic memory consists of the recollection of the broader details of an event, or peripheral details, that loosely connect everything together (Talarico et al., 2009). In this same study, Talarico et al. (2009) also showed negative emotions facilitated tunnel vision on a few central details of the autobiographical memory. This finding is supported by the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) which stated that, when in a negative and stressed state of being, our thinking process is narrow, more reactive (as apposed to proactive), and operates on a less creative and intuitive level (Tomasino, 2007). It was argued negative emotions create an imbalance of function between sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system and that this imbalance produces reduced fluency in psychophysiological functioning (Tomasino, 2007). So then, conversely, positive affect accompanied by broader access to memories in one's experience may be more conducive to creative idea generation by means of mixing and matching associative memories.

For the purposes of the current study, the 10-Minute Creativity Test (see Figure 1) was designed to be sensitive to participant differences in creative idea generation as a function of their state of affect. In this creativity test, participants were asked to create and draw figures on a provided collection of OO stimuli. Magno (2011) supported this prediction by stating creative ideas and solutions are facilitated by positive emotion, relaxation, and calming of the mind.

The current study addressed, specifically, the role of positive emotion in meditation (i.e., a sustained, heightened positive emotional state of clear-minded relaxation as discussed in Engström and Söderfeldt (2010)) and their combined impact on creativity. Engström and Söderfeldt (2010) found, while monitoring an experienced Tibetan Buddhist meditator via fMRI during a meditation experience, parts of the brain associated with calm, happy feelings, and empathy were triggered. For the purpose of the current study, we were interested in whether this positive emotional state would positively influence individual creativity. Rollin McCraty, IHM's head of research, agreed with us and posited meditation would increase creativity (R. McCraty, personal communication, November 1, 2011).

This combination of positive emotion and meditation has been the fuel for IHM's research for 20 years. The IHM has been studying the role of the heart in the health and efficiency of the body's autonomic systems, the brain, and cognition. McCraty (2002) found that, if one maintains specific and consistent heart rate rhythms (.1 hertz), breathing patterns, and positive emotion such as compassion or appreciation, one achieves a state IHM terms "psychophysiological coherence"—often referred to simply as "coherence." To simplify and operationalize the coherence state, it can be understood as the unique incorporation of positive emotion, focus, and relaxation. To achieve coherence, people are trained using the IHM's pulse wave monitors, which display immediate biofeedback to the participant via the EmWave Desktop Monitor software displayed via computer screen. Numerous studies show benefits such as improvements in mood (Tomasino, 2007), stress (Morris, 2010), and anxiety (McCraty, 2002) subsequent to engagement in the coherence state.

Given these benefits of coherence, we asked whether coherence would produce a notable benefit on individual creativity. Defining and operationalizing the creativity construct was a challenge but important for the purpose of the current study. Rhode, in his 4 perspective model, defined creativity as a multifaceted intelligence composed of one's personality traits, thought processes, novel products, and surrounding environment (Zeng et al., 2011). Novel product, creation, or idea generation was the focus of the current study and will be discussed further in the method.

In the current study, individual participants received 10 minutes of training on how to enter the coherence state using the EmWave Desktop Monitor™ biofeedback device (McCraty & Childre, 2002). Anyone can achieve and maintain the high-coherence state; however, due to the short training time allotted, there were variations in participant ability to successfully enter and maintain the coherence state. Experimental group participants who showed high performance (exhibiting 3 minutes of uninterrupted, confirmed coherence) were categorized into the high-coherence group. Those who were trained but unable to achieve 3 minutes of uninterrupted coherence (as confirmed by the biofeedback software) were placed in the medium-coherence group. Participants in these two groups were asked to complete a simple creativity test. The control group, called the non-coherence group, was in an academic setting and did not receive coherence training prior to taking the creativity test. A comparison would be made between median creativity test scores among these three groups. Based on previous findings suggesting meditation yields positive emotion, improves higher memory function, and, thus, might influence creativity (e.g., Friedman et al., 2007; Talarico et al., 2009; Magno, 2011), we hypothesized those in the high-coherence group would show higher creativity scores than those in the non-coherence group.


In the current study, there were three groups referred to as non-, medium-, and high-coherence. The non-coherence group took a creativity test focusing on unique idea generation (Macleod, 2009) for 10 minutes while in an academic setting. Medium- and high-coherence groups were trained in the coherence technique facilitated with the EmWave equipment prior to taking the same creativity test.


Forty-three undergraduate students (age range: 18-30 years) participated in the current study. The non-, med-, and high-coherence groups' respective samples included 22, 13, and 8 participants. The participants' reward was the introduction to the potentially new experience of meditation (for the med- and high-coherence groups) and, otherwise, course or extra credit.


Participants in the medium- and high-coherence group, individually, entered the training room where they were provided a brief introduction to IHM and educated on the positive effects of coherence. Heart coherence, as described by the IHM, is the psychophysiological state where heart rate variability (HRV) pattern—the heart's beat-to-beat variation—produces a trace pattern resembling a sine wave (IHM, 2011). After this introduction, each participant was connected to the EmWave Desktop monitor and guided into coherence using IHM's Quick Coherence® Technique (IHM, 2011). The steps followed to facilitate coherence in participants were:

  1. Heart Focus (focus on heart area),
  2. Heart Breathing (breath deeply, in and out of heart area), and
  3. Heart Feeling (recall a positive, compassionate thought).

This process was expedited and authenticated when the participant tracked their own progress on the biofeedback graph produced by IHM's EmWave Desktop monitor software and adjusted their technique accordingly (IHM, 2011) over a 10 minute period. All data produced were, confidentially, saved for analysis. Following this training phase was the idea generation phase, where participants completed a 10-minute creativity test adapted from an image produced by the Panamericana School of Art and Design (Macleod, 2009).

Participants able to maintain high coherence for an uninterrupted 3 minutes during the training session qualified for the high-coherence group and were asked to complete the 10-minute creativity test (see Figure 1). High-coherence qualifying participants transitioned to the test immediately after they achieved 3 minutes of uninterrupted coherence, even if this occurred before the 10 minutes of training was complete. The decision was made to begin the same creativity test immediately after 3 minutes of high coherence to minimize dissipation of the achieved mental state. The medium-coherence group consisted of those who were trained but did not qualify for the high-coherence group. The control group completed an academic test for 10 minutes prior to their 10-minute creativity test.


The EmWave Desktop is a biofeedback device that monitors heart rhythms and HRV to translate this information into a wave pattern graph of psychophysiological coherence immediately visible to participants via computer screen (IHM, 2011). Heart rhythm and HRV input is sensed through a pulse meter attached to the earlobe.

 Creativity Test

Following the training phase was the idea generation phase that consisted of a creativity test adapted from an image sourced from the Panamericana Art Institute (Macleod, 2009). In original form, this image included repeating rows of OO pairings located on various surfaces (e.g., paper, walls, bathroom stalls, etc.) on which people would superimpose their own freehand drawings, incorporating the OO pairings. Adapting this image as our dependent measure, we created a horizontally oriented 8½ inch x 11 inch sheet including six rows of eight OO pairings (see Figure 1).

The 10-minute Creativity Test

Figure 1. The creativity exercise originally created by the Panamericana School of Art and Design—to whom all credit is given as presented here (Macleod, 2009). This exercise was converted to a creativity test with specific scoring (refer to Table 1). Participants were instructed to draw images incorporating these double image pairs and were scored on entry volume and novelty.

The verbalized instructions were, "to draw as many different ideas that most people can identify (e.g., not abstract) incorporating these double images." This instruction was given in an attempt to minimize classification errors in scoring and idea suggestion. After the idea generation phase, participants were asked to label each image they produced to facilitate objective scoring. Table 1 provides the coding strategy used during the scoring process, as this method had not been used before to assess creativity. The scoring used creativity points (CPT) and favored the generation of ideas in volume and novelty as supported by Rhode's definition of creativity (Zeng et al., 2011).

Table 1
Creativity Test Scoring Rubric

≥ 33% of all participants labeled the same concept
0.50 CPT
Novel idea within the participant's own test 1.00 CPT
Subsequent repetitions of an idea within same test 0.25 CPT
Novel idea among all participant tests 3.00 CPT
Image incorporating more than one pair of OOs 3.00 CPT
Specific historical or fictional character 3.00 CPT

Note. Minimum point awarded to a drawing entry was 0.50, maximum point awarded was 3.00 CPT. Each drawing qualified for multiple creativity point (CPT) awards.

The score criterions listed in Table 1 could compound for each drawing (e.g., a unique idea, that is a historical character, that incorporated 2 pairs of OOs would score 9 CPT). The highest possible score on the creativity test was 216 points. This represented the potential score if every drawing entry on the test combined these characteristics.

Figure 2. EmWave Display of the coherence ratios from the Medium- and High-Coherence Training groups. This is a display of the 21 participants' median heart rate (top) and coherence ratio (bottom) scores.  Green indicates the percentage of time spent in "high coherence," blue indicates the percentage of time spent in "medium coherence," and red indicates the percentage of time spent in "low coherence." This figure does not indicate whether a participant maintained 3 min of uninterrupted high coherence.


Each of the 21 coherence training sessions (ultimately, 13 medium-coherence, 8 high-coherence) were recorded by the accompanying software and displayed by the EmWave Desktop as seen in Figure 2. In the 3-10 minute training sessions, 8 participants achieved high-coherence (defined by 3 uninterrupted minutes of high coherence). Still, all trained participants spent a portion of intermittent time in high coherence (indicated by green in Figure 2).

Differences between creativity test scores, detailed in Table 2, between these three groups (non-, medium-, high-coherence) were assessed. Median creativity scores were calculated by group and analyzed using the non-parametric alternative to the one-way ANOVA, the Kruskal-Wallis, due to its flexibility with unequal sample sizes (Ryan & Joiner, 2005).

Table 2

Creativity Test Scores Among Non-, Medium-, and High-Coherence Groups

















































Note. Units are in Creativity Points (CPT). These groups do have unequal sample sizes, therefore, the Kruskal-Wallis Test was chosen for data analysis. Group medians are as follows: non-coherence = 24.00 CPT, medium-coherence = 24.75 CPT, high-coherence = 24.50 CPT.

Forty-three participants completed the creativity test and the median score across all groups was 20.6 CPT. Two-hundred forty-eight ideas were recorded in an Excel spreadsheet and the number of times each idea was drawn was tallied. This spreadsheet was used for scoring purposes.

Considering differences in creativity scores across coherence groups and given our adopted significance level of p = .05, results of the Kruskal-Wallis (p = .882, H = .66) failed to reject the null hypothesis, indicating no significant difference in creativity scores across coherence groups. Using the procedures defined in the current study, level of engaged coherence does not appear to influence creativity as measured by our adaptation of the Panamericana creativity exercise (Macleod, 2009). Results of the current study indicate 10 minutes of coherence training does not significantly impact unique idea generation (dependent measure of creativity).


We contend a methodological review may explain our pattern of results and justify further research into the impact of meditation and other calming, integrative practices on various types of creativity. Specifically, we are concerned our sample, sorting criteria, and group assignment as related to the training period may have produced this pattern of results while a different set of explicit criteria related to these factors may have produced different results. Examination of our methodological limitations may prove useful in advising future researchers exploring the effects of holistic practices (e.g., meditation).

Our raw data set contains several participants' CPT score outliers, particularly in the non- and high-coherence groups. These outliers strongly impacted our group medians and larger sample sizes would have better defined the nature of these data points relative to others.

Further, the adapted creativity test was independently designed and untested for reliability. Although our adaptation did produce a vast collection of drawings and participant response seemed positive during the creativity test, it is hard to declare with certainty that the creativity test sustained participant interest or if the scoring (use of CPTs) accurately captured both the volume and uniqueness of ideas. The Torrance Test for Creativity would be a more reliable creativity measure for use in studies of this kind (Runco, Millar, Acar, & Cramond, 2010); however, due to financial constraints we were unable to make use of the Torrance Test within the current study.

There are also issues concerning the sorting criterion for the medium- and high-coherence groups. Group assignment and inadequate training duration produced the most noteworthy concerns. Achievement of high-coherence and group membership was operationalized as participant maintenance of 3 uninterrupted minutes of high-coherence. We exercised this operational definition with consistency in defining group membership. This practice did omit from the high-coherence group several participants who were very close to qualifying and were, otherwise, categorized into the medium-coherence group. Without notable difference in the cutoff between medium- and high-coherence groups, our participants fell along a continuum rather than into distinct groups. Alternatively, if participant categorization into groups representing various levels of coherence was in order, we suggest a more accurate criterion may be the EmWave's output ratios of time spent in each low-, medium-, and high-coherence. For example, as a specific critique of the resulting pattern in the current study, 5 of the 13 medium-coherence group members spent the highest proportion of time in high coherence, 3 maintaining high-coherence over 50 percent of the training period and one in this state for 70 percent of the training period. Still, given these participants did not achieve 3 uninterrupted minutes of coherence, they did not qualify for the high-coherence group (see Figure 2). It is uncertain whether these individuals would have been operating in the same mental and cognitive state as those who achieved 3 minutes of uninterrupted high-coherence, however, this is an important empirical question to be explored in future studies of this nature.

It should also be noted 10 minutes of coherence training is minimal and may have prevented observation of any difference between coherence groups. On discussion of the pattern of results from the current study with Rollin McCraty, he indicated two months of coherence training would produce more sustained and measureable cognitive and physiological effects (personal communication, November 1, 2011). In the current study, training sessions were limited to a 10 minutes maximum due to time constraints. Longitudinal replication of this study incorporating more sustained coherence training may more authentically demonstrate the effects of coherence training on creativity.

Beyond the interest of the current study, however, is the question of whether the results of longitudinal studies, including case studies, are viewed as comparable in comparison to experimental studies. Experimental studies exploring wellness and the benefits of various maintenance practices (i.e., meditation, yoga, eating habits, etc.) in short duration provide only a glimpse into a lifestyle process—the benefits of which are, typically, cultivated over time. The longitudinal study should be recognized as an appropriate and enriching element in studies of this type.

A possible avenue to advanced creativity and imagination may exist in the coherence state of being. Still, further (perhaps more longitudinal) research is needed to explore this possibility. Our operation in this mental and cognitive state may yield the potential for limitless growth. Albert Einstein's opinion on creativity and imagination is inspirational, ". . . imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research" (Einstein, 1931, p. 97). Whether one is simply cooking or mediating on a peaceful resolution between nations, creativity is inherent to our humanity. Creativity, and an allowance thereof, can greatly inform and simplify tasks and challenges, adding to the sense of inspirational flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) in our lives.


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