How People Select The Most Creative Ideas — There Are 2 Factors (M)

The study examined how people come to like some creative ideas more than others. 

The study examined how people come to like some creative ideas more than others. 


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Why Depression Makes Everyday Decisions Difficult (M)

The research may help explain why people who are depressed say they find it difficult to make ordinary, everyday decisions.

The research may help explain why people who are depressed say they find it difficult to make ordinary, everyday decisions.


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How To Dream Your Way To Enhanced Creativity (M)

The brain is able to make more wide-ranging connections in a sleeping or semi-sleeping state, technically known as hypnagogia.

The brain is able to make more wide-ranging connections in a sleeping or semi-sleeping state, technically known as hypnagogia.


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8 Proven Ways To Supercharge Your Creativity

Get creative by seeing with child-like eyes, spotting your most creative ideas and escaping from conventional thinking.

Get creative by seeing with child-like eyes, spotting your most creative ideas and escaping from conventional thinking.

Creativity is not just for ‘creative types’ like artists — everyone needs it.

The ordinary routines of daily life are enlivened by new ideas.

How we eat, travel, exercise, socialising, work and even simply think are all enhanced by the unconventional.

Naturally, everyone can be creative: we can all innovate given time, freedom, autonomy, experience to draw on, perhaps a role model to emulate and the motivation to get on with it.

So, below are 8 psychology studies from the members-only section of PsyBlog on the psychology of creativity.

(If you are not already, find out how to become a PsyBlog member here.)

  1. How Conventional Thinkers Can Be More Creative
  2. The Benefit Of Seeing With Child-Like Eyes
  3. Why We Have So Many Ideas While Walking Or Showering
  4. Neurotic People Have This Surprising Mental Advantage In Creativity
  5. This Word Game Reveals A Really Creative Mind
  6. The Wonderful Emotion That Helps Drive Creativity
  7. How To Avoid Getting Stuck In A Rut
  8. How To Spot Your Best Ideas

→ Read on: Creativity: 14 Ways To Find Inspiration And Originality

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Benefits Of Being A Loner: It Has Psychological Advantages

Being a loner for the right reason has benefits, psychology finds — it depends on the reasons for social withdrawal.

Being a loner for the right reason has benefits, psychology finds — it depends on the reasons for social withdrawal.

Spending time alone is linked to increased creativity among some people, research finds.

Not all forms of social withdrawal are unhealthy, it seems.

However, it depends on the reason for the withdrawal.

Social withdrawal related to anxiety and fear is linked to negative outcomes, but social withdrawal without this feature is linked to creativity.

Dr  Julie Bowker, the study’s first author, said:

“Motivation matters.

We have to understand why someone is withdrawing to understand the associated risks and benefits.

When people think about the costs associated with social withdrawal, often times they adopt a developmental perspective.

During childhood and adolescence, the idea is that if you’re removing yourself too much from your peers, then you’re missing out on positive interactions like receiving social support, developing social skills and other benefits of interacting with your peers.

This may be why there has been such an emphasis on the negative effects of avoiding and withdrawing from peers.”

Benefits of being a loner

Now psychologists are beginning to better understand the different motivations for social withdrawal and the benefits of being a loner.

Some are loners out of anxiety, but others are loners because they enjoy spending time alone.

Like the American writer, Henry David Thoreau, who retreated to a cabin in the woods to write his most famous book, Walden.

Dr  Bowker said:

“Although unsociable youth spend more time alone than with others, we know that they spend some time with peers.

They are not antisocial.

They don’t initiate interaction, but also don’t appear to turn down social invitations from peers.

Therefore, they may get just enough peer interaction so that when they are alone, they are able to enjoy that solitude.

They’re able to think creatively and develop new ideas — like an artist in a studio or the academic in his or her office.”

For the study, 295 young adults reported their motivations for social withdrawal and being a loner.

Dr  Bowker said:

“Over the years, unsociability has been characterized as a relatively benign form of social withdrawal.

But, with the new findings linking it to creativity, we think unsociability may be better characterized as a potentially beneficial form of social withdrawal.”

The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Bowker et al., 2017).

How Conventional Thinkers Can Be More Creative (M)

The ‘creatively challenged’ — those not naturally open to new experiences — can find it hard to come up with novel ideas, but this technique can help.

The 'creatively challenged' -- those not naturally open to new experiences -- can find it hard to come up with novel ideas, but this technique can help.


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Creativity: 14 Ways To Find Inspiration And Originality

Creativity research in psychology reveals 14 ways to increase imaginative and creativity thinking, discover new ideas and solve problems.

Creativity research in psychology reveals 14 ways to increase imaginative and creativity thinking, discover new ideas and solve problems.

Creativity and imagination is all about finding new solutions to problems and situations.

Creativity and being original are useful skills for everyone.

And everyone is creative: we can all innovate given time, freedom, autonomy, experience to draw on, perhaps a role model to emulate and the motivation to get on with it.

But there are times when even the most creative person gets bored, starts going round in circles, or hits a cul-de-sac.

So here are 14 creativity boosters that research has shown will increase creativity:

1. Combine opposites for inspiration

Interviews with 22 Nobel Laureates in physiology, chemistry, medicine and physics as well as Pulitzer Prize winning writers and other artists has found a surprising similarity in their creative processes (Rothenberg, 1996).

Called ‘Janusian thinking’ after the many-faced Roman god Janus, it involves conceiving of multiple simultaneous opposites.

Integrative ideas emerge from juxtapositions, which are usually not obvious in the final product, theory or artwork.

Physicist Niels Bohr may have used Janusian thinking to conceive the principle of complementarity in quantum theory (that light can be analysed as either a wave or a particle, but never simultaneously as both).

◊ For insight: set up impossible oppositions, try ridiculous combinations. If all else fails, pray to Janus.

2. Take the path of most resistance

When people try to be ingenious they usually take the path of least resistance by building on existing ideas (Ward, 1994).

This isn’t a problem, as long as you don’t mind variations on a theme.

If you want something more novel, however, it can be limiting to scaffold your own attempts on what already exists.

The path of most resistance can lead to more creative solutions.

◊ For insight: because it’s the path of least resistance, every man and his dog is going up and down it. Try off-road.

3. A counterfactual mindset boosts creativity

Conjuring up what might have been gives a powerful boost to creativity.

Markman et al. (2007) found that using counterfactuals (what might have happened but didn’t) sometimes doubled people’s creativity.

But counterfactuals work best if they are tailored to the target problem:

  • Analytical problems are best tackled with a subtractive mind-set: thinking about what could have been taken away from the situation.
  • Expansive problems benefited most from an additive counterfactual mind-set: thinking about what could have been added to the situation.

4. Two problems are more creative than one

People solve many problems analogically: by recalling a similar old one and applying the same, or similar solution.

Unfortunately, studies have found that people are poor at recalling similar problems they’ve already solved.

In a counter-intuitive study, however, Kurtz and Lowenstein (2007) found that having two problems rather than one made it more likely that participants would recall problems they’d solved before, which helped them solve the current problem.

So don’t avoid complications, gather them all up; they may well help jog your memory.

5. Psychological distance for creativity insight

People often recommend physical separation from creative impasses by taking a break, but psychological distance can be just as useful.

Participants in one study who were primed to think about the source of a task as distant, solved twice as many insight problems as those primed with proximity to the task (Jia et al., 2009).

◊ For insight: Try imagining your creativity task as distant and disconnected from your current location. This should encourage higher level thinking.

6. Fast forward in time for originality

Like psychological distance, chronological distance can also boost creativity.

Forster et al., (2004) asked participants to think about what their lives would be like one year from now.

They were more insightful and generated more creative solutions to problems than those who were thinking about what their lives would be like tomorrow.

Thinking about distance in both time and space seems to cue the mind to think abstractly and consequently more creatively.

◊ For insight: Project yourself forward in time; view your creative task from one, ten or a hundred years distant.

7. Use bad moods to be more creative

Positive emotional states increase both problem solving and flexible thinking, and are generally thought to be more conducive to creativity.

But negative emotions also have the power to boost creativity.

One study of 161 employees found that creativity increased when both positive and negative emotions were running high (George & Zhou, 2007).

They appeared to be using the drama in the workplace positively.

◊ For insight: negative moods can be creativity killers but try to find ways to use them—you might be surprised by what happens.

8. Fight for imagination and creativity

We tend to think that when people are arguing, they become more narrow-minded and rigid and consequently less creative.

But, according to research by Dreu and Nijstad (2008), the reverse may actually be true.

Across four experiments they found that when in conflict people engaged more with a problem and generated more original ways of arguing.

Being in social conflict seems to give people an intense motivated focus. So, to get creative, start a fight.

9. Generic verbs lead to creative insights

Another boost for analogical thinking can be had from writing down the problem, then changing the problem-specific verbs to more generic ones.

What Clement et al. (1994) discovered when they tested this method was that analogical leaps are easier when problems were described in looser, more generic terms.

In this study performance increased by more than 100% in some tasks.

This is just one of a number of techniques which encourage  focus on the gist of the problem rather than its specific details, which helps boost creativity.

10. Synonyms boost creativity

Just like changing the verbs, re-encoding the problem using synonyms and category taxonomies can help.

This means analysing the type of problem and coming up with different ways of representing it.

Lowenstein (2009; PDF) emphasises the importance of accessing the underlying structure of the problem in order to work out a solution.

11. Love leads to creative thinking

Forster et al. (2009) found that when experimental participants were primed with thoughts of love they became more creative, but when primed with carnal desire they became less creative (although more analytical).

While it certainly isn’t the first time that love has been identified as a creative stimulus, psychologists have suggested a particular cognitive mechanism.

Love cues us with thoughts of the long-term, hence our minds zoom out and we reason more abstractly and analogically.

Sex meanwhile cues the present, leading to a concrete analytical processing style.

For creativity, abstraction and analogy are preferred.

12. Creativity requires more than daydreaming

To increase creativity we’re always hearing about the benefits of daydreaming for incubating ideas.

It’s a nice idea that all the work is going on under the hood with no effort from us.

But you’ll notice that all the methods covered here are active rather than passive.

That’s because the research generally finds only very small benefits for periods of incubation or unconscious thought (Zhong et al., 2009).

The problem with unconscious creativity is that it tends to remain unconscious, so we never find out about it, even if it exists.

The benefit of incubating or waiting on creativity may only be that it gives us time to forget all our initial bad ideas, to make way for better ones.

Moreover, incubating for creativity only works if the unconscious already has lots of information to incubate, in other words if you’ve already done a lot of work on the problem.

So: stop daydreaming and start doing!

13. Being absurd increases creativity

The mind is desperate to make meaning from experience.

The more absurdity it experiences, the harder it has to work to find meaning and creative insights.

Participants in one study read an absurd short story by Franz Kafka before completing a pattern recognition task (Proulx, 2009).

Compared with control participants, those who had read the short story showed an enhanced subconscious ability to recognise hidden patterns.

◊ For insight: read Alice in Wonderland, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, or any other absurdist masterpiece. Absurdity is a ‘meaning threat’ which enhances creativity.

14. Re-conceptualise the problem for inspiration

People often jump to answers too quickly before they’ve really thought about the question.

Research suggests that spending time re-conceptualising the problem is beneficial.

Mumford et al., (1994) found that experimental participants produced higher quality ideas when forced to re-conceive the problem in different ways before trying to solve it.

Similarly a classic study of artists found that those focused on discovery at the problem-formulation stage produced better art (Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels, 1971).

◊ For insight: forget the solution for now, concentrate on the problem. Are you asking the right question?

Bonus radical creativity idea

If all that fails, then I’ve got one radical, bonus suggestion: move to another country and learn another language.

Maddux and Galinsky (2009) found that people who had lived abroad performed better on a range of creative tasks.

In an experimental test of this idea, Maddux et al. (2010) asked participants to recall multicultural learning experiences and found that this made people more flexible in their thinking and better able to make creative connections.

This only worked when people had actually lived abroad, not when they just imagined it.

Everyday creativity and ingenuity

Despite all the highfalutin talk of Nobel Prize winners and artists, all of these methods can be applied to everyday life.

Combining opposites, choosing the path of most resistance, absurdism and the rest can just as easily be used to help you choose a gift for someone, think about your career in a new way or decide what to do at the weekend.

‘Off-duty’ creativity is just as important, if not more so, than all that ‘serious’ creativity.

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything.” ~George Lois

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Group Norms In Psychology: How They Affect Creativity

Group norms hurt creativity because group members equate creativity with conformity.

Group norms hurt creativity because group members equate creativity with conformity.

Creativity is a much coveted asset for a very simple reason: an idea that transcends orthodoxy has the power to bring wealth, fame and status.

Commercial, scientific, educational and artistic organisations, therefore, often talk about how they want to foster creativity.

Unfortunately groups only rarely foment great ideas because people in them are powerfully shaped by group norms: the unwritten rules which describe how individuals in a group ‘are’ and how they ‘ought’ to behave.

Norms influence what people believe is right and wrong just as surely as real laws, but with none of the permanence or transparency of written regulations.

The enemy of creativity

These unwritten rules or ‘groups norms’ flow almost imperceptibly from one person to the next so that changes are difficult to spot unless they are carefully measured.

A classic psychological study on group norms randomly allocated new university students to either conservative sororities or more liberal dormitories (Siegel & Siegel, 1957).

Over time students assigned to the liberal dormitories became less conservative as the group’s norms seeped into their consciousness.

Not only do norms spread like wildfire, groups don’t even need to be that well-established, people will conform to others with only the slightest encouragement.

In another classic social experiment, people thrown into a group of strangers denied their own senses to increase their conformity with others.

When simply judging the length of a line, participants happily went along with the group despite clear evidence from their eyes that the group was wrong.

Group norms

The purpose of norms is to provide a stable and predictable social world, to regulate our behaviour with each other.

In many respects norms have a beneficial effect, bolstering society’s foundations and keeping it from falling into chaos.

On the other hand stability and predictability are enemies of the creative process.

When groups are asked to think creatively the reason they frequently fail is because implicit norms constrain them in the most explicit ways.

This is clearly demonstrated in a recent study carried out by Adarves-Yorno et al. (2006).

They asked two groups of participants to create posters and subtly gave each group a norm about either using more words on the poster or more images.

Afterwards when they judged each others’ work, participants equated creativity with following the group norm; the ‘words’ group rated posters with more words as more creative and the ‘images’ group rated posters with more images as more creative.

The unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative. In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.

In another part of the same experiment these results were reversed when people’s individuality rather than their group membership was emphasised.

Creativity became all about being different from others and being inconsistent with group norms.

When freed from the almost invisible shackles of the group, then, people suddenly remembered the dictionary definition of creativity: to transcend the orthodox.

Camels are horses designed by committee

So of course schools kill creativity, of course politicians are fighting over the middle ground, of course most TV programmes are the same and of course all our high streets are identical.

People are social animals who work in groups and, especially with the advance of globalisation, the number of groups that govern or control our world has shrunk.

These groups naturally kill creativity, or at least redefine it as conformity.

Creativity within groups isn’t impossible, though, it’s just that it has to fight all the harder to get out.

Coming up with something truly new often means having to steer a path away from the herd, towards new horizons.

If you really covet creativity, then there’s one rule you’d be well advised to follow: go it alone.

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