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Lighting and Creativity

I'm feeling creative.

I’m feeling creative.

In yesterday’s article about daydreaming and creativity, I noted that daydreaming is negatively correlated with parts of the brain that process visual stimuli. I suggested that this might relate to inattentional blindness. If you’re daydreaming, your mind wanders and you don’t consciously see things even if they’re directly in front of you. Some part of your subconscious may see the object (and direct you around it) but the object never registers in your consciousness.

Now there’s evidence that not seeing may enhance your creativity. An article in The Journal of Environmental Psychology  (“Freedom from constraints: Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity“) reports on six different experiments on the relationship between physical environment and creativity.  The research found “…that darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style.” (See additional commentary here and here)

The study focused on 114 German undergraduate students who were asked to solve several creative insight problems under different lighting conditions. The upshot: students in dimly lit rooms solved more problems than those in brightly lit rooms. They also reported that they felt fewer constraints on their thinking. The research also suggested that mental priming could effectively imitate a dim environment. In other words, you don’t have to be in a dark room; you just have to think about being in a dark room.

The researchers also note that creativity involves at least two processes: 1) creating or generating ideas; 2) analyzing and implementing those ideas. A dimly lit room seems to facilitate the first process but not the second. In the authors’ words: “Creativity may begin in the dark but it shouldn’t end there”.

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