The Frontal Cortex

Light Bulbs

There’s a neat list of variables that reliably (at least reliably in the lab) increase certain forms of creativity. There is, for instance, the blue room effect, and the benefit of spatial distance, and the bonus of living abroad, and the perk of thinking like a 7-year old. Here’s a new creative strategy:

Previous research has characterized insight as the product of internal processes, and has thus investigated the cognitive and motivational processes that immediately precede it. In this research, however, we investigate whether insight can be catalyzed by a cultural artifact, an external object imbued with learned meaning. Specifically, we exposed participants to an illuminating lightbulb – an iconic image of insight – prior to or during insight problem-solving. Across four studies, exposing participants to an illuminating lightbulb primed concepts associated with achieving an insight, and enhanced insight problem-solving in three different domains (spatial, verbal, and mathematical), but did not enhance general (non-insight) problem-solving.

So for those taking notes at home: if your work involves moments of insight, it’s probably best to work in a bright blue room, surrounded by pictures of lightbulbs and little kids.

Comments

  1. #1 royniles
    April 7, 2010

    Little kids at play perhaps with little animals?

  2. #2 Justin Wehr
    April 7, 2010

    I recently started an informal self-experiment to find out when I am most creative, defined as how many original ideas I write in my notebook. Intuitively, I feel pretty confident that what matters more than anything is simply exposing myself to lots of ideas. Most of my original ideas are sparked from reading a book or listening to a podcast. Rarely does the mind go anywhere interesting if not exposed to ideas.

    I anxiously await your book on creativity. Your first two books were two of the very best I have read. Seriously: http://wehrintheworld.blogspot.com/2009/09/big-post-of-book-recommendations.html

  3. #3 NeuroK├╝z
    April 8, 2010

    I just had an insight: I’m going to start a business selling light bulbs and light bulb accessories, touting the effects on creativity.

    …and I didn’t even change the lighting in my room or travel across the world to come up with that one.

    On a serious note – cool study.

  4. #4 Patricia
    April 8, 2010

    I recommend taking a shower for stimulating creativity.

  5. #5 jb
    April 8, 2010

    The image of a lightbulb coming on connotes the process by which insights arise spontaneously, ‘out of the blue’ as it were. You don’t think them into being although prior to having them you may have thought a lot about a particular dilemma and tried to solve it by anlaysis and logic. Rather the necessary condition for them to arise is that you are not thinking; your mind is present and aware and taking in sense perceptions either because they are sufficiently novel to be interesting and pleasurable or your are in danger. Thus the benefits of travel, living abroad, and being young. Typically the mind is relaxed as well as present (blue is a pacifying color). Einstein came up with some of his best insights while sailing. Firefighter Dodge came up with a new way to fight fires because he was present and in danger. NFL players at their best, play ‘in the zone’ and their moves arise spontaneously.
    Now, we have no control of our thinking mind…it starts thinking (after many long years of training) of its own accord and we are carried off by our mundane thoughts (not insights) and ‘gone’ for long periods of time. And also outside of our control, our mind comes back and we are present, ‘back to square one’ as is said. One good way to initiate coming back is to put up an image of an illuminated light bulb so that you are reminded to do so. Your researchers are not the only ones to have used a word or an image to do this. See also comment #31 on April 2, 2010.

  6. #6 waffles
    April 8, 2010

    It’s interesting how sensitive we are to our surroundings/context. It reminds me of how carefully experienced users of psychedelics emphasize “set and setting”: meaning your mindset and surroundings, as having a huge impact on the experience. And that’s not to mention psychedelics’ potential for the enhancement of creativity…

    So would this be an example of fluid intelligence being influenced by external factors? Or am I misunderstanding fluid intelligence?

  7. #7 jb
    April 9, 2010

    Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” is now out on video. I saw the movie itself 3 times I think when it was in theatres. I was not into MJ’s music when he was alive nor was my son so it was not til I caught an interview with him that aired on the news at the time of his death that I became a fan. A big fan. He talked about the light bulb coming on.

    MJ and whoever the interviewer was were talking about how he writes a song. MJ said that if he sat down with the intention to write a great song that never works. Instead he was driving around in his car and for the song Billy Jean, just said to himself, I want to write a song with a great bass line, and he let it go. Then several days later the song appeared in his mind. “Where did it come from?” asked the interviewer. MJ just shrugged and held up his hand above his head.

    That is what he passed on. That is it.

    The interviewer went onto ask about dancing.”How did that happen?” MJ said, “the same way”. The interviewer asked him to demonstrate. Reluctantly MJ got to his feet and started moving. The interviewer asked, ” what is going through your mind?” MJ says..”I’m not thinking. The biggest mistake a dancer can make is to think. You have to feel. You become the bass, the clarinet, the fanfare, the drums”. Interviewer: “it’s almost that you become the embodiment of the music”…MJ: “absolutely”.

  8. #8 Kevin Vogelsang
    April 10, 2010

    It’s very likely that certain objects get us into “the zone” for thinking about anything.
    We stimulate holiday spirit with decorations. We listen to specific music to get into work mode.

    The lightbulb is interesting because many people get into the “zone” for creative processes at night. I attribute this to the serenity of the night (or early morning). But perhaps, it’s the light bulbs after all.

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