Christian Jarrett of the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports this week on a new study by Duke University scholar Sarah Gaither and her colleagues. The article describes experimental research highlighting the power and efficacy of a simple technique for boosting one's creativity. Here's an excerpt from Jarrett's article:
In a new paper in Developmental Science, a team led by Sarah Gaither at Duke University presents evidence that prompting children to think about their own multiple identities boosts their problem-solving skills and increases their flexible thinking.... In the first of three studies, Gaither and her team split 48 six- and seven-year-olds into two groups. One was the intervention group and these participants spent time reflecting briefly with a researcher about eight of their various social identities, such as “friend”, “girl” and “reader”. This process concluded with the researcher saying “That is so cool that you are lots of things at the same time.” The other group served as a control and these participants chatted briefly with a researcher about eight of their different physical attributes, such as having two feet and a mouth. Similar to the intervention condition, the control condition ended with the researcher saying “That is so cool that you have a lot of things at the same time.” Afterwards all the children completed four different problem solving and flexible thinking challenges... The findings were consistent, with the children who reflected on their multiple identities outperforming the children in the control condition on all four of the tests.
This research proves quite consistent with earlier work on the effects for adults of gaining "psychological distance" that I described in my book. For instance, I described experimental research in which people displayed more creativity when they were able to gain social distance from a problem through imagining themselves as different people, or imagining others tackling the same problem. Sometimes, we can be 'too focused' on a problem. Multitasking is awful, of course, but some concerted effort to 'unfocus" amidst intense work on a problem can be helpful. One way to gain distance is through the intervention described here.