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How Priming the Mind Can Make You More Creative

Prime your mind to increase your creativity

How Priming the Mind Can Make You More Creative

Can priming people make them more creative?

In a series of experiments conducted by Ap Dijksterhuis and Ad van Knippenberg at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, participants were asked to write down a few lines regarding either a typical football hooligan or a typical professor.

When asked a variety of broad-knowledge questions, those who had spent some time considering a typical football hooligan got 46% of the answers correct, while those who’d spent just a few seconds thinking about a typical professor achieved 60%.

This is just one example of priming, Several studies have shown that similar types of priming effects occur in a variety of circumstances, for example people are more selfish and unkind when they view dollar symbols on the computer screen, donating less money to charity and sitting farther away from others. Similarly, when you add the scent of cleaning fluid to the air, individuals clean up more thoroughly. Another example of priming is when people suddenly become more competitive when a briefcase is left on a table during a meeting.

Prime Your Mind To Become More Creative:

In one experiment, participants were asked to write a few sentences about the behavior, lifestyle, and appearance of a typical punk (chosen because punks are, as the researchers put it, “anarchic and radical”) in a study conducted by psychologist Jens Forster at the International University Bremen in Germany whilst others did exactly the same for a typical engineer (“conservative and logical”).

The team of experimenters then performed a standardized test of creativity. The results showed that those who had spent just a few seconds thinking about the punk were far more creative than those who had taken time to consider the ordinary engineer.

Whilst this is evident when considering punks or engineers, people are less likely to come up with new ideas if they’re asked to consider a well-known personality like Leonardo da Vinci. It appears that if the bar for performance is set excessively high, individuals will become disheartened and cease trying. In 2005, Forster carried out a new sort of creativity-priming study with real-world implications.

He suggested that simply looking at a contemporary work of art would encourage people to challenge the status quo and might even stimulate people’s creativity.

Forster tested his hypothesis by having participants complete a typical creativity test (i.e., “think of as many applications for a brick as possible”) while seated in front of one of two specially designed art prints.

The two prints were similar in size, shape, and color (light green) and each featured twelve large dark green crosses against a light background.

The eleven dark green crosses in one picture were contrasted with the lone yellow cross in the other image.

The psychologists thought that this single yellow cross would be interpreted by the unconscious mind as breaking away from its more conservative and conventional green relatives, which might encourage more innovative and creative thinking.

The findings were incredible. Even though the individuals in front of the “creative” picture did not consciously notice it, they generated far more uses for a brick. A panel of judges found their answers to be considerably more inventive. This is a powerful illustration of the fact that if you want to get someone or a group to think more creatively, you should consider the power of visual priming to encourage this creativity.

Using your body to prime your mind to open it's creativity.

However, research shows that sitting in front of a modern art print isn’t the only way to generate new ideas. It’s also about how you use your body. There is a strong connection between anxiety and creativity.

When people are anxious, they become extremely focused on the job at hand, increasingly risk-averse, rely on well-worn habits and routines, and view the world through less creative eyes. In contrast, individuals who are comfortable in a setting are more inclined to explore new and unusual thinking and behavior techniques, see the broader picture, take chances, and think and act creatively.

Based on this connection, it should theoretically be feasible to improve people’s creativity by making them feel more at ease. Researchers have tried a variety of anxiety alleviating approaches, including lengthy relaxation exercises, amusing movies, and listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with willing participants. Their results echoed their belief that when individuals feel at ease in their immediate environment, they have more creative and unique ideas.

A few years ago, psychologists Ronald Friedman and Jens Forster developed a quick technique for inducing calm in people. The discovery that it also improved creativity was a side effect of their method.  When you enjoy something, you may pull it toward you. When you dislike something, you often push it away. Since birth, you’ve been performing these basic pull-push motions all the time, and they’re very likely to be done on a regular basis.  Even more, these memories have become firmly connected in your mind, with the act of pulling being associated with a good sentiment and that of pushing linked to a far less pleasant experience.

Friedman and Forster wondered whether getting people to perform these actions for just a few moments might be enough to trigger the feelings associated with them and therefore affect people’s creative thinking.  They created a task for willing participants to sit at a table and complete basic creativity exercises like generating as many uses for common items as possible, or solving classic lateral-thinking puzzles.

Half of the volunteers were instructed to pull the table toward them with their right hand and gently tug it beneath the table, sending a subtle signal to their brains that they enjoyed where they were. Another group was instructed to put their right hand on top of the table and push down, giving the impression that they felt under attack. The pushes and pulls were light enough not to cause the table to move, and none of the participants knew that pushing and pulling would have an impact on their creativity.

They were able to complete the creation task with one hand while gently pushing or pulling with the other. The researchers discovered that regardless of whether individuals were coming up with inventive purposes for everyday items or attempting to produce those essential “aha” insights, those who were pushing scored significantly higher than those who were pulling.

It’s a straightforward yet effective technique. It isn’t the only study to show how your body can have an odd impact on your creativity in the brain. Another experiment, done by Ronald Friedman and Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester, involved having participants solve difficult anagrams with their arms crossed or draped over their thighs.

What about folding your arms?

Folding the arms is frequently linked with stubbornness and perseverance, much as pushing and pulling are unconsciously connected to like and dislike. Would this easy movement be enough to get people to keep trying to crack the anagrams for longer? Absolutely!

The volunteers with their arms folded took almost twice as long to solve the anagrams as those who were resting their hands on their thighs. Perhaps more significantly, they ended up tackling a lot more anagrams as a result of this. Other duties, such as volunteering and donating goods, provide scientific backing for perhaps the most popular activity of all:

Researchers Darren Lipnicki and Don Byrne at Australian National University had students try to solve a set of five-letter anagrams while either standing up or lying down. The anagrams were a varied group, with some being quite simple (“gip” into “pig”) and others requiring significant thought (“nodru” into round “)

Surprisingly, the volunteers solved the problems 10% faster when horizontal, resulting in a higher grade and time. What caused the difference? According to Lipnicki and Byrne, it’s possible that a tiny region of your brain known as the locus coeruleus (in Latin, “the blue spot”) was responsible for the variation.

When this area of the brain is activated, it secretes a stress hormone called norepinephrine, which raises heart rate, causes the release of energy, and stimulates blood flow throughout the body.

When you stand up, blood is drawn away from the upper body, which stimulates the locus coeruleus and activity. When you lie down, on the other hand, blood is pulled away from your head and neck area, which decreases brain activity. Noradrenaline, it is suggested, may hamper the brain’s capacity to engage in certain kinds of thinking, such as creative and adaptable solving of anagrams.

It appears that adopting an upright or prone (meaning “can’t be bothered”) posture has a significant impact on the chemicals flowing through your body, forcing your brain to function in various ways.

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