Tucking a creative problem away at the back of your mind is not necessarily the best way to come up with novel solutions, suggests new research out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. There, researchers asked three groups of people to tackle problems requiring creative solutions after performing one of three activities: engaging in a concentration-heavy task, doing repetitive tasks that allowed the mind to wander, and taking a short rest that required no mental exertion. They found that those people who had been occupied with a boring task performed best on a standard creativity test known as the Unusual Uses Task.
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday
What’s the Big Idea?
Researchers believe that while the mind is wandering, a relatively rare state facilitated by rote activities, several different brain regions interact, inspiring new solutions to tired problems. This suggests that the most successful group in the experiment ‘resulted from an incubation process’ which was ‘characterized by high levels of mind wandering,’ the researchers write. “So if you’re an aspiring songwriter or a poet with a day job waiting tables, you may be in luck. So long as the restaurant isn’t ridiculously busy, you have placed yourself in a situation that facilitates creative thinking.”