In a recent article published in the International Herald Tribune (8 December, 2010), Benedict Carey describes the experiments that neuroscientists have been conducting to understand the causes of the light bulb moment that leads to insight. It seems that the more fun we are having, the better we are at puzzle solving and being creative. At Added Value, this is something that we have long believed in, which is why we have been using games and other fun activities during our workshop sessions, known as “Generators”, to help stimulate our creativity and that of our clients.

Using puzzle-solving to gather insight
The journalist describes how scientists have explored why people feel a certain sense of comfort from knowing that a puzzle can be solved. As any of us who do crosswords or Sudokus know, puzzle-solving offers a form of pleasant escapism. Scientists, like Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, have used game-playing to analyse the leaps of understanding needed by the brain to solve problems. He has shown that the very idea of solving a puzzle shifts the brain into an open, playful state that is in itself pleasing. This positive mood lowers the brain’s threshold for detecting remote connections and allows people to solve puzzles more effectively. The study concluded that people were more likely to solve word puzzles when they were amused.

Brain imaging to understand the process
Recent studies conducted by Dr Beeman and Dr Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University, have taken images of people’s brains as they prepare to tackle a puzzle. People, whose brains showed a particular trace of activity strongly correlated with positive moods, were significantly more likely to have sudden flashes of inspiration and insightful ideas. In particular, strong activation is noticed in a brain area called the cingulate cortex. Cells in this area are active when people widen or narrow their attention to focus on a difficult task; this in turn allows the brain to widen its attention, making itself more open to weaker connections and consequently leads to a greater capacity for problem solving and insight.

A concordance in studies
Another research study, this time on the subject of humour conducted by Drs Beeman and Subramaniam, had college students solve word association puzzles after watching either a funny, scary or neutral video. Results showed that the students solved more puzzles after watching funny videos rather than the neutral or scary ones.

Many studies have come to the same conclusion, linking positive moods to better creative problem-solving. According to Dr Anderson at the University of Toronto, people think more broadly and see more connections when their perceptual and visual systems work in parallel. Although there is still much to learn, the idea that a playful, distracted brain can be a more insightful one is gaining ground.

Added Value’s Generator
Added Value has always encouraged the use of play in workshops. These sessions, called “Generators”, have proved to be very productive with clients and consumers. They allow us to stimulate fresh perspectives and unleash creative energy. Participants are coached by our expert facilitators to liberate their intuition, flex their creative muscles and break their old thinking patterns through board games, role-playing and even sack races! Now scientists have shown that the simple act of having fun helps our brains make new connections and arrive at new insight, we’ll be thinking up new games and challenges to get the creative juices flowing even more.

Written by Mark Whiting, Director & Marina Cozzika, Public Relations.

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