Do You Really Have Your Best Ideas in the Shower?
Have you ever tried so hard to solve a problem that it felt like your head would explode? Or gotten writer's block when searching for inspiration for a story or a poem? And then, almost like magic, the answer comes when you least expect it. Researchers at the University of Virginia describe this as “the shower effect,” since inspiration seems to strike so frequently in the shower. But it's not just showering that can have this effect. Research indicates that people often come up with their best ideas while allowing their minds to wander during moderately engaging tasks.
Researchers believe that activities requiring only minor cognitive stimulation – such as showering, gardening, or walking – promote more creativity than idle mind wandering and being in an unstimulating environment. Alice Flaherty, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says it's important to step away from a problem and let your brain rest in order to solve an issue. She also believes that showering may spark good ideas because it physically increases a person’s heart rate.
People can use “the shower effect” to improve their creativity by taking breaks to get in a different mode of thinking. Rather than staring blankly at an empty page or computer screen, moving to a new environment and taking part in something moderately engaging may also be helpful. In time, the answer to a problem will come, or creativity will strike.
- In a 2012 study, participants were asked to come up with alternative uses for everyday items after they’d been completing tasks requiring various levels of mental demand. The study revealed that the participants scored highest on the creativity test the lower the mental demand was.
- In 2019, a group of 98 writers and 87 physicists were asked to write down their most creative idea every day, in addition to what they were doing and thinking when the idea hit them. Twenty percent of their most meaningful ideas occurred when they were taking a shower or washing dishes.
- In another mind-wandering study, some students watched a mundane video of two men hanging laundry, while the others watched the infamous deli scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally. After allowing time for their minds to wander, tests revealed that the students who watched the film clip had more creative ideas than those who had watched the boring laundry video.
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