Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Positive Mood Allows Your Brain to Think More Creatively

People who watch funny videos on the internet at work aren't necessarily wasting time. They may be taking advantage of the latest psychological science--putting themselves in a good mood so they can think more creatively.

"Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking," says Ruby Nadler, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario. She and colleagues Rahel Rabi and John Paul Minda carried out a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. For this study, Nadler and her colleagues looked at a particular kind of learning that is improved by creative thinking.

Students who took part in the study were put into different moods and then given a category learning task to do (they learned to classify sets of pictures with visually complex patterns). The researchers manipulated mood with help from music clips and video clips; first, they tried several out to find out what made people happiest and saddest. The happiest music was a peppy Mozart piece, and the happiest video was of a laughing baby. The researchers then used these in the experiment, along with sad music and video (a piece of music from Schindler's List and a news report about an earthquake) and a piece of music and a video that didn't affect mood. After listening to the music and watching the video, people had to try to learn to recognize a pattern.

Happy volunteers were better at learning a rule to classify the patterns than sad or neutral volunteers. "If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that," Nadler says. And music is an easy way to get into a good mood. Everyone has a different type of music that works for them--don't feel like you have to switch to Mozart, she says.

Nadler also thinks this may be a reason why people like to watch funny videos at work. “I think people are unconsciously trying to put themselves in a positive mood”--so that apparent time-wasting may actually be good news for employers. [15 December 2010 - Association for Psychological Science - More]

WSJ: What Makes Kids Creative

Researchers believe growth in the time kids spend on computers and watching TV, plus a trend in schools toward rote learning and standardized testing, are crowding out the less structured activities that foster creativity. Mark Runco, a professor of creative studies and gifted education at the University of Georgia, says students have as much creative potential as ever, but he would give U.S. elementary, middle and high schools "a 'D' at best" on encouraging them. "We're doing a very poor job, especially before college, with recognizing and supporting creativity," he says. Many parents are stepping into the breach by nurturing their kids' creative skills. They are challenging them to generate new ideas or encouraging them to notice problems in the world around them and research possible solutions. By tolerating "wrong" answers or allowing their children to live in a fantasy world for a while, parents can put off the emphasis on skill-building and achievement, researchers say. ... Some parents are signing their children up for programs designed to foster creativity. One such program, Destination ImagiNation. ... Similar programs include Odyssey of the Mind, and Future Problem-Solving Program International. ... Parents also need to refrain from judging kids' ideas, even if they seem crazy or naive. ... It is best to avoid paying too much attention to the outcome of kids' creative efforts, says Dr. Kaufman, the professor. "The more emphasis put on the final product—'It's so beautiful I'm going to frame it and tell my friends about it,' " he says, the greater is "the risk that the kid is going to do pictures for the praise, and not for the enjoyment." Instead, emphasize effort over results. ... Raising a creative child can be taxing. Such kids tend to have above-average "spontaneity, boldness, courage, freedom and expressiveness," Dr. Kim says. So they sometimes behave like little anarchists. [15 December 2010 - Wall Street Journal - More]

Pure Genius [... It Doesn't Come From the Classroom]

The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQSudden Genius: The Gradual Path to Creative BreakthroughsThe German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth CenturyGenius of BritainIn the popular imagination, geniuses are a breed apart. They are capable of insights or artistic creations that no amount of training and effort could produce in mere ordinary folk. You can squander your genius or fail to fulfil it but, ultimately, you either have it at birth or you don't. Four new books about genius all interrogate this powerful myth. At the very least, they show that the soil in which genius grows matters at least as much as the seed, which is why particular cultures produce particular types of genius at particular times in history. This is the implicit message of Peter Watson’s The German Genius and Robert Uhlig’s Genius of Britain, which look at collective as well as individual brilliance. In Sudden Genius? Andrew Robinson goes further in undermining the myths of genius, suggesting that virtually none of the common-sense ideas we have about it stack up. And in The Genius in All of Us, David Shenk claims the idea that genius is dispensed at birth is still based on discredited genetics. ... All four authors converge, however, on two trends common to genius. The first, most apparent in Uhlig and Watson’s books, is that the minds of geniuses almost always first form themselves outside the confines of formal, standard education. The best education money can buy may be good for most but for true, original creativity, it is more of a hindrance than a help. Einstein was not the under-achiever of legend at school but his autodidactic pursuits were more important for his intellectual development and he only came into his own in private study. The second condition of genius is that it does not emerge without tremendous effort. Robinson describes this in terms of the “ten-year rule”, an idea which Malcolm Gladwell popularised in Outliers: The Story of Success. To achieve something truly outstanding requires about 10 years of regular and extensive work and practice. [10 December 2010 - Financial Times - More]