Many engineering problems still require novel solutions, e.g., the repurposing of retired wind-turbine blades. Increasing evidence suggests that the recall of episodic memories enhances idea generation, but its application to engineering problems has been limited. The current work investigates the effectiveness of a memory induction on generating ideas. Engineering undergraduate students in a fourth-year design course (N = 38) completed a study under both of two conditions, a memory induction and a control (non-episodic-memory) induction. Participants underwent the induction before generating ideas on the Alternate Uses Task (AUT), a standard test of divergent thinking, and a wind-turbine-blade repurposing task (WRT).

AUT responses following the memory induction were deemed significantly more flexible (p = .045) and elaborate (p = .041) than responses following the control induction. No difference in response fluency (p = 0.205) followed the two inductions, possibly due to limited time allotted for the AUT. In line with this explanation, fluency was inversely related to elaboration. In the WRT, more appropriate (p = 0.009) and more feasible (p = 0.015) ideas for repurposing wind-turbine blades were generated following the memory than the control induction.

These results suggest that strategies increasing access to episodic memory may improve generation of alternative-use ideas for both common objects and wind-turbine blades.

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