Where is your mind?

Letting the mind wonder fosters creativity. Image: Kuznetsov Alexey/Shutterstock

Scientists suggest embracing random trains of thought improves creativity.

Psychologists are finding that our brains are basically wired to wonder. Most of the time we don’t even realise when our mind has left the physical world and drifted off on a mental tangent to some abstract territory far, far away.  In fact, many of you are probably doing it right now.

Our parents, teachers and employers tell us throughout life that daydreaming is a negative trait and a sign of mental immaturity. To be successful we have to be able to concentrate on the task at hand. But researchers are finding that some daydreaming — not to be mistaken with procrastinating — fosters creativity and could improve complex problem solving.

People who focus easily tend to be good at analytical tasks; they generally excel in arithmetic and verbal reasoning based problems, and often have high IQ scores. However, studies have shown that very focused individuals are actually below average in solving problems that require thinking outside the box.

“Several lines of evidence are now showing that too much focus can actually harm performance on creative or insightful problem-solving tasks,” explained psychologists Jennifer Wiley and Andrew Jarosz in a paper published in the Psychology of Learning and Motivation journal.

In a psychological test known as the Unusual Uses Test, people are asked to think of as many creative uses for a single object, such as a brick. A study by researchers from the University of Memphis, Tennessee, showed that people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), being highly prone to zoning out, tend to do better in these types of tests than people without ADHD.

Creativity is the ability to develop something new by linking unrelated concepts. A large body of evidence is accumulating that suggests zoning out helps us escape from the limits of executive control, allowing these links to be made.

Source: New Scientist

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