Why you have all your best ideas in the SHOWER: Focusing on a moderately-engaging task boosts your creativity more than just letting your mind wander aimlessly, study finds

  • Participants were shown a ‘boring’ video or a clip from When Harry Met Sally
  • They were then asked to name alternative uses for paperclips and bricks
  • Those who’d watched When Harry Met Sally came up with more ideas
  • Results suggest focusing on a moderately-engaging tasks boosts your creativity more than just letting your mind wander aimlessly

The shower isn’t just where we go when we want to get clean – for many people it’s also the spot where we have our best ideas.

But what exactly is it that makes the shower so ideal for creative breakthroughs?

According to a new study, focusing on a moderately-engaging task like showering boosts creativity more than simply letting your mind wander aimlessly.

Dr Zac Irving, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and co-author of the study, said: ‘Say you’re stuck on a problem. What do you do?

‘Probably not something mind-numbingly boring like watching paint dry.

‘Instead, you do something to occupy yourself, like going for a walk, gardening, or taking a shower. All these activities are moderately engaging.’

The shower isn’t just where we go when we want to get clean – for many people it’s also the spot where we have our best ideas (stock image)

Forgetting is a form of learning, study claims 

Instead of our memories decaying with time, forgetting is actually an active form of learning that helps our brain to access more important information.

This is the conclusion of experts from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Toronto, who said that ‘lost’ memories are not really gone, just made inaccessible.

Memories, they explained, are stored permanently in sets of neurons, with our brains deciding which ones we keep access to and which irrelevant ones are locked away.

These choices, they said, are based on environmental feedback, theoretically allowing us flexibility in the face of change and better decision-making as a result.

If correct, the findings could lead to new ways to understand and treat memory loss associated with disease — such as is seen, for example, in patients with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers were inspired to study the topic off the back of a 2012 study, which found that when we perform an undemanding task, our brains tend to wander and creativity flows.

In their new study, the team asked participants to come up with alternative uses for either a brick or a paperclip.

Participants were split into two groups, which each viewed a different three-minute video.

The first video was ‘boring’, and showed two men folding laundry.

In contrast, the second video was ‘moderately engaging’ and included ‘that’ cheeky scene from the 1989 film, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, in which Meg Ryan’s character demonstrates how to fake an orgasm.

‘What we really wanted to know was not which video is helping you be more creative,’ Dr Irving said.

‘The question was how is mind-wandering related to creativity during boring and engaging tasks?’

After watching the video, participants were asked to quickly list their alternative uses for the brick or paperclip.

They were also asked to report how much their minds wandered during the videos.

The results revealed that participants who watched the clip from When Harry Met Sally came up with a greater number of ideas than those who watched the boring video.

In their study, published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, the team concluded: ‘We find that mind wandering leads to more creative ideas, but only during moderately engaging activities.

‘Boring activities lead to either more ideas or more semantically distant ideas overall, but these effects were unrelated to mind wandering.

‘Boring activities may therefore lead to ideas by affording time for focused problem solving, whereas engaging activities may do so by encouraging productive mind wandering.’

The news comes shortly after researchers revealed that it really is possible for your mind to go completely blank. 

The second video was ‘moderately engaging’ and included ‘that’ cheeky scene from the 1989 film, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, in which Meg Ryan’s character demonstrates how to fake an orgasm

Researchers looked at 36 people who were put into an MRI machine and asked to describe their thoughts.

People found their mind going blank about five to seven per cent of the time.

The scan results showed their brain entering an almost sleep-like state, with steady activity across all regions, instead of the variable activity in different brain areas linked to thought.

The researchers now suspect there is a good evolutionary reason for zoning out when concentrating would be better – to stop our brains getting too tired.

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