Usually we perform best with mind and body in sync. With our thoughts tied to our actions decisions are made faster, we are more engaged and we feel at one with ourselves.
If you want to be creative, though, sometimes it pays to be out of sync according to a recent study by Huang and Galinsky (2011). They had some people recalling a happy time in their life while at the same time frowning. Another group recalled sad memories while smiling. The idea was to get their minds going one way and their bodies going the other.
In two comparison groups, participants were told to produce consonant mind-body states, i.e. happy memory plus happy face and sad memory plus sad face.
After this participants had to make judgements about how typical words were of a particular category. For example, how typical a vehicle is a camel? How typical a piece of furniture is a telephone? And how typical a vegetable is garlic? These are all weak examples of each category compared with more typical examples of a car, a table and a potato.
The results showed that when participants were in a dissonant frame of mind (say smiling while thinking sad thoughts) they were more likely to judge camels, telephones and garlic as relatively typical examples of a vehicle, piece of furniture and vegetable. On the other hand, those whose minds and bodies were coherent thought they were less typical examples of those categories.
Participants in the dissonant conditions, then, were thinking more expansively. Expansive thinking is very useful in the early stages of the creative process. It allows two previously unconnected ideas to be brought together in new and exciting ways.
As creatures of habit people automatically go down the same avenues of thought time after time. It’s why creating something new is so difficult. Mind-body dissonance, though, sends a signal that we are outside of our comfort zone, that a new type of response is required.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Racchio
The Psychology of Creativity
→ This post is part of a series on the psychology of creativity:
- The Creative Power of Thinking Outside Yourself
- Get Creative: 7 More Psychological Techniques
- 6 Ways to Kill Creativity
- Unusual Thinking Styles Increase Creativity
- Creativity for the Cautious
- Why People Secretly Fear Creative Ideas
- How to Promote Visionary Thinking
- Duck/Rabbit Illusion Provides a Simple Test of Creativity
- The Dark Side of Creativity
- Five Effortless Postures that Foster Creative Thinking
- What’s The Best Time of Day to be Creative?
- Creativity: Why You Should Seek Out Unusual or Downright Weird Experiences
- The Incubation Effect: How to Break Through a Mental Block
- The Brainstorming Tweak: How to Boost Creativity in Groups
- How to Create Brand New Solutions From Old Objects and Ideas