Monday, June 18, 2012

Mind wandering and creativity

New research by Schooler and Baird at UCSB builds on previous research suggesting that mind wandering assists creativity. I haven't read the original paper yet, but from its description in the SciAm article, I have a few big questions. First, to recap:

  • Subjects were asked to list unusual uses for usual items.
  • They took a break, which included one of four possible activities:
    1. Resting
    2. A demanding attentional task
    3. An undemanding reaction task "known to elicit mind wandering"
    4. No break
  • Subjects in group 3 were much better than the other groups at listing additional uses for items they saw before the break. They were no better with new items.
    • This suggests that mind wandering is great for stimulating new ideas to problems you're already working on.
Immediate questions:
  • How do we know that the subjects weren't trained meditators, and thus that the undemanding task didn't elicit wandering?
    • Did they measure mind wandering in the subjects and try to correlate it with the improvements? If not, why not suspect that reaction tasks are what boost creativity?
  • Resting is known to elicit mind wandering. Why did this group show no improvement at all?
  • How would a meditating group do? If, say, breathing meditation is not good for creativity, maybe we should be warning people.
Next step, I guess, is reading the paper itself.

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