Ever wonder why you seem to come up with your best ideas when you’re in the shower?
Research titled ‘Inspired By Distraction’ claimed you become more creative in your problem solving when you’re doing simple tasks which allow your mind to wander. The authors wrote, “Compared with engaging in a demanding task, rest, or no break, engaging in an undemanding task during an incubation period led to substantial improvements in performance on previously encountered problems.” The research confirmed what many people already believed – you have your best ideas when you least expect it.
It’s an intriguing theory but follow-up studies have yielded inconsistent results.
More recent research titled “The Shower Effect” seems to shed light on why mind-wandering doesn’t always lead to creativity. Study participants were asked to come up with alternative uses for either a brick or paperclip. They were then split into two groups who watched either a boring video of two men folding laundry or a moderately-engaging video from a popular movie.
After watching the videos, participants self-reported how much their mind wandered during the videos. As expected, those who watched the video of the two men folding laundry were less engaged. The participants then had 45 seconds to quickly generate alternative uses for the brick or paperclip. Those who watched the engaging video were more creative, coming up with a larger number of alternative uses.
Like many scientific experiments, this isn’t a real-world situation but it does provide a basis for the researchers to verify the underlying theory. For obvious reasons, it’s unlikely they will ever test mind wandering while subjects actually shower but they do plan to extend the research to more realistic contexts like walking down a busy street.
If you’re stuck solving a problem, it’s worth not thinking about for a while and do something to distract yourself. Maybe even take a shower – your best ideas might come that way.