Why are our best ideas born in the shower?
Many people admit to having experienced “the shower effect” without understanding the reason for it. The scientist named Zac Irving therefore conducted new experiences to elucidate certain points concerning this phenomenon.
222 people participated in the first experiment. It consists of find as many possible uses for a “brick” or “paperclip” in 90 seconds. Then, the participants were split into two.
The first group had to watch an engaging scene of 3 minutes taken from when Harry met Sally. The second, meanwhile, looked a video of a man folding laundry.
A mind walk can boost creativity
The results show that captivating, mind-wandering video is associated with more creative responses. In contrast, the boring video had the opposite effect and does not seem to be related to the thought walk.
“While engaging tasks lead to productive mind wandering, boring tasks can be beneficial because they allow you to oscillate between periods of focused and unfocused thought.”
Zac Irving, Instructor in Philosophy of Cognitive Science at the University of Virginia
After that, we have reproduced the first experiment on 118 participants. But this time, half of the group were informed that they would return to the initial task after the video. The other half got only uncertain instructions.
The results confirm that the free flow of thought facilitates the generation of new ideas. That said, the condition is to exercise a moderately stimulating activity that imposes certain constraints on thinking.
How to generate creative ideas?
Previous studies have confused mind wandering with boredom. This new experience attests that in reality, the generation of new ideas requires a certain balance between free thought and concentrated thought. That said, exclusive concentration on a single task can limit the imagination.
Indeed, in case of problem, rehash this one until its resolution would be useless. The results of the study suggest escaping into an activity moderately engaging. These are, for example, taking a shower, gardening or taking a walk.
Boring tasks should be avoided. They do not stimulate your thoughts enough to generate creative ideas. Seither you will be distracted or you will think back to the original problem.
More research is needed to understand why the best ideas come in the hot water of the shower. Nevertheless, these recent results already teach us how to generate them.
The study was published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.