Hand Clenching for Memory Boost

The previous post discussed how squeezing a rubber ball may temporarily boost creative thinking. There is also a twist on this brain hack that may enhance memory.  A 2013 study by Ruth Propper and her colleagues found that hand clenching may enhance your ability both to remember new ideas as well as recall existing information.[1] However, the memory boost is likely to be small.

Also, the underlying neuroscientific model is a lot more dubious. This technique is based on the HERA model (Hemispheric Encoding/Retrieval Asymmetry), which basically says that left hemisphere is responsible for encoding of the new information and right hemisphere for retrieval. Further, an easy way to increase activation of the particular hemisphere is by clenching the contralateral hand (the hand of the opposite side). Read more »

Squeezing a Rubber Ball May Boost Creative Thinking

Psychological research suggests a simple brain hack for temporarily boosting creativity and all it requires is a rubber ball. The technique itself is extremely simple: all you have to do is squeeze a rubber ball with your left hand as hard as you can for about a minute.

An original study on this technique by four Israeli researchers (Goldstein et al., 2010) found that subjects who squeezed a rubber ball with their left hand solved noticeably more problems on a remote associates test, a standard test of convergent thinking. This form of creative thinking, usually contrasted with divergent thinking, is most useful for “connecting the dots:” combining existing information, comparing and juggling ideas, solving problems with some specified criteria, or extracting ideas from other information. A lot of real-world innovation or typical business problem-solving depends heavily on convergent thinking.

Read more at Psych Central.

When Distancing from the Problem Hurts Creative Thinking

Distancing from the problem, as the previous post discussed, is a solid method for increasing creativity: studies generally show that psychological distance helps with insight and creative generation because it leads to abstract information processing. Although there is little doubt that psychological distance is often invaluable for creative thinking, there are solid reasons why any one-sided recommendation to distance from the problem is counterproductive. Read more »

Why Distancing From the Problem Helps Creative Thinking

One of the most widely prescribed creativity recommendations is to increase distance from the problem, for example, by imagining the problem in the distant future or by considering how other people would solve it. This recommendation traditionally circulated in popular creativity books and other similar sources, but over the last decade, it has also received some research backing.

So understandably, the idea that creativity rises when we distance ourselves from the problem is becoming more and more generally accepted. The next post will discuss two major reasons why such one-sided recommendation is dangerous because sometimes distancing might impair creative thinking, and this post briefly summarizes research showing that psychological distance enhances creative thinking. Read more »

5 Ways to Stimulate Abstract Mindset and Broader Mental Perspectives

Abstract mindset and information processing is very important for creativity, and more broadly for mental flexibility and explorative thinking. The following five techniques are the most basic ways to stimulate abstract mindset and broader perspective on demand:

1. Why Restatements. Why restatements—continuously asking why you need to solve the problem or take some action—reliably lead to more abstract representations as they force you to focus on higher and higher goals.[1] The 5 Whys technique of problem solving is a well-known example of this approach traditionally used by organizations like Toyota and others. Also, asking about the broadest implications of the problem should do the similar trick. If your creative challenge concerns more some object rather than an action, you can think of higher categories to which your object belongs.[2] (For example, if you’re working on some smartwatch technology and want to stimulate abstract mindset, think of higher level categories to which it belongs—wireless handsets, portable devices, communication systems, and so on). Read more »

Why Abstract Representations Enhance Creative Thinking

The last post discussed the dual pathway to creativity, which explains that creative ideas emerge either as a result of detail-oriented thinking and persistence (which gives rises to original ideas within narrower categories) or as a result of cognitive flexibility and mental-set breaking. The flexibility pathway is very dependent on broad mental horizons and abstract processing. This post describes why abstract processing may help creative thinking and why it may hurt it; the next post will briefly describe the basic practical tools for increasing it.

Generally, the same thing (whether an object, an event, or a person) can be represented more or less abstractly. For example, you could think about eating an orange in more concrete terms, such as taking the fruit, peeling the skin and so on. Yet, you could also think about it more abstractly, for example, as taking care of your nutrition so you could live a healthy and satisfying life. How abstractly you think about something depends on many things, such as psychological distance or the abstractness of the language used to define a problem.

Research shows that more abstract representations normally enhance creative thinking. To illustrate why abstract representations are often helpful, consider the following classic insight problem of a prisoner in a tower:

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?

To find the solution, you could develop a rather concrete representation of this problem, for example, by focusing on the length of the rope. Alternatively, you could represent it more abstractly, for example, as a problem of safely getting down by using the available materials. Read more »

Dual Pathway to Creativity and the Importance of Detail-Oriented Thinking

Dual pathway to creativity in a nutshell: Although creativity is traditionally equated with intuitive and associative thinking which capitalizes on cognitive flexibility and mental-set breaking, the dual pathway to creativity recognizes an alternative pathway based on detail-oriented and analytical thinking which leads to creative ideas within narrower categories.

Creativity in the popular understanding is often juxtaposed with rational and analytical thinking. This was neatly expressed by a French mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré when he stated that “it is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.”

Psychological research traditionally has likewise considered creativity as nearly synonymous with intuitive and associative thinking. Analytical thinking is considered important for creativity only because of its role in critical evaluation and analysis of ideas, but its role is supposedly minimal in creative generation, the very process of producing ideas.

In reality, however, creative generation sometimes works better with deliberate and analytical as opposed to intuitive thinking, as could be seen from many creative ideas in science, business, and other non-artistic fields which were produced primarily through deliberate and detail-oriented thinking. And over the last decade, this fact is also slowly being recognized in creativity research. Read more »

Procrustean Problem-Solving Bias and the Law of Small Displays

The Procrustean Problem-Solving Bias

We often deal with complex problems by simply cutting off some elements of a problem so as to conveniently reduce its complexity. This tendency could be called the Procrustean problem-solving bias.

Procrustean Problem Solving Bias In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a bandit who forced people to fit his arbitrary-sized bed by either stretching them if they were too short or cutting off their legs if they were too tall. In problem solving, the Procrustean bias manifests itself in the cutting part: cutting down the elements of a complex problem to fit it, for example, into our limited working memory. Read more »

Psychological Distance & Construal Level Theory

We can mentally represent the same situation more concretely or more abstractly. Level of abstraction, called construal level, has diverse effects on our thinking, including creativity, problem solving, risk taking, analytic evaluations, forecasting of other people’s actions, self-control, decision-making, and other elements of creative and adaptive thinking. Higher level construals allow for more abstract reasoning and easier extraction of high-level information; accordingly, higher level construals, for example, can help with creativity but hurt with predictions.

One of the easiest ways to influence construal level is by manipulating psychological distance. This post explains what construal level is and what influences psychological distance; future posts will explore how psychological distance affects specific aspects of thinking and problem solving, such as creativity, decision making, and others. Read more »

How Psychological Priming Affects Thinking

What is Psychological Priming and How It Affects Our Thinking

Psychological priming explains how our environments influence our thinking. Smart priming can enhance all sorts of thinking from simple creativity to high-level strategic thinking. Conversely, unfavorable priming can noticeably damage our thinking. Priming helps to understand, for example, why sometimes it may be a very bad idea to make decisions when you’re in a company of certain people. For instance, critical and careful decisions might be derailed merely because of people or surroundings that would prime you with irresponsibility and thoughtlessness. Read more »