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Taking a break from a task may make you more creative

01 September 2016

Spending time away from a problem can help you come up with more creative solutions - that's the conclusion of research being presented to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Psychology Section in Barcelona by Lindsey Carruthers from Edinburgh Napier University.

In her study Lindsey Carruthers asked 100 people to think of unusual uses for a familiar object, a task that measures a participant’s ability to produce numerous original, creative ideas. This task was scored for fluency (total number of ideas), flexibility (number of types of ideas), and originality (how creative and unusual the ideas are).

While they were completing it, 75 of the participants were interrupted for five minutes by being asked to complete an alternative, irrelevant task. The idea being that this break, or incubation period as it is known, would allow the participant’s mind to wander, thus leading them to produce more creative ideas, a finding that has been found by others previously.

When the results were analysed, Carruthers found that there were no differences in fluency, flexibility, or originality between the group who had been interrupted and the group who had not.

However, there was a significant increase in the proportion of original ideas produced after the break, and 62 per cent of post-break ideas belonged to new flexibility categories.

When asked, 61 per cent of participants stated that they had continued to consider solutions to the creativity task during their break, rather than mind-wandering. This means that they did not actually take part in an incubation period as previous research has reported, but were still able to produce proportionally more original ideas.

According to Carruthers this indicates that:

“although the raw creativity scores of fluency, flexibility, and originality did not increase, a high percentage of post-incubation ideas were from new categories, and the concentration of original ideas was significantly higher than pre-incubation. This shows that a break from writing down solutions could be beneficial, and when faced with a problem, the first solutions may not always be the most creative.”

More information on the Annual Conference can be found here.

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