The blog has had a couple of pieces recently looking at the conditions that spark our creative juices. The first featured some research that looked at the role of caffeine on our creativity. It found that having a hit of caffeine focused our attention, thus making the random meanderings that so often lead to creative insights that much harder. So caffeine was bad.
Another study then looked at the role of lighting on our creativity. It came to a similar conclusion to the first, in that very bright light caused our brain to focus intently on things, thus hampering creativity. The best environment therefore was when the lights were dimmed.
A final study then looked at the role of noise on creativity. It found that the kind of low level background noise we often find in a local cafe was perfect for creative thoughts. It was a similar theory, that we need to let our brain wander a bit if we want it to make the kind of connections required for creative thought.
So, it seems, if you want to be creative, you need to find a cafe with dim lighting that doesn’t mind you drinking de-caffeinated products all day.
If that sounds like too much hassle though, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania suggest applying a light electrical shock to your brain. Dr Sharon Thompson-Schill found that a small dose of electricity applied to the prefrontal cortext gets our creativity flowing.
“We have all this info impinging on us from the outside world and bubbling up internally,” she says. “The prefrontal cortex helps us focus on a given goal or plan. If I know I’m having friends over for dinner, I might plan to stop by wine store. My prefrontal cortex makes sure I don’t get distracted if I bump into a friend on my way there.”
The research takes a similar line to the three studies mentioned earlier. It suggests that applying a small shock to the brain can stop it from focusing unduly on something, thus enabling it to wander in expansive and innovative ways.
Suffice to say, applying electricity to your brain is not something I’d recommend you try at home, but the moral of each piece of research is pretty consistent. If you want to come up with creative thoughts, then you have to give your brain the freedom to think widely and openly.