Sunday, 8 November 2009

Performing horizontal eye movement exercises can boost your creativity

There have been prior clues that creativity benefits from ample cross-talk between the brain hemispheres. For example, patients who've had a commissurotomy - the severing of the thick bundle of nerve fibres that joins the two hemispheres - show deficits on creative tasks. Now Elizabeth Shobe and colleagues have provided the first evidence that creativity is boosted by an intervention designed to increase hemispheric cross-talk.

Shobe's team tested 62 participants on a version of the "Alternative Uses Test", a divergent thinking challenge that involves dreaming up unconventional uses for everyday objects such as bricks and newspapers.

An important factor that the researchers took note of was the participants' handedness. Prior research has suggested that people who have one hand that is particularly dominant, so-called "strong-handers", have less cross-talk between their brain hemispheres compared with people who are more ambidextrous or "mixed handed".

After an initial attempt at the creativity task, half the participants spent thirty seconds shifting their eyes horizontally back and forth. This exercise is thought to help increase inter-hemispheric communication. The remaining participants acted as controls and just stared straight ahead for 30 seconds.

The key finding is that on their second creativity attempt, strong-handers who'd performed the horizontal eye movements subsequently showed a significant improvement in their creativity, in terms of being more original (i.e. suggesting ideas not proposed by others) and coming up with more categories of use. Staring straight ahead, by contrast, had no effect on creativity.

Another finding was that, overall, the mixed-handed participants performed better on the creativity task than the strong-handers, thus providing further evidence for a link between inter-hemispheric interaction, which mixed-handers have more of, and creativity. But it also turned out that mixed-handers didn't benefit from the horizontal eye movement task. It's as if they already have an optimum amount of hemispheric cross-talk so that the eye movements make no difference. This meant that after the strong-handers had performed the horizontal eye movements, their performance matched that of the mixed-handed participants.

The researchers also showed that, for strong-handers, the beneficial effects of the eye movement exercise lasted nine minutes for originality, but just three to six minutes in terms of coming up with more categories of use.

"Our findings may not apply to more unique populations who are characterised as 'highly creative'," the researchers said, "nor can we conclude ... that the thirty seconds bilateral eye movement task will turn an average individual into an artist, poet, scientist, philosopher, actor or sculptor. However, we certainly do propose that the ... eye movement task will result in a temporary increase in strong-hander's ability to think of creative uses for various house-hold objects."

These new findings complement research published in 2008 showing that horizontal eye movements aid memory performance for strongly-right handed people, but impair the performance of left-handers and mixed-handers.

ResearchBlogging.orgShobe ER, Ross NM, & Fleck JI (2009). Influence of handedness and bilateral eye movements on creativity. Brain and cognition, 71 (3), 204-14 PMID: 19800726

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Anonymous said...

You said, "...subsequently showed a significant improvement in their creativity, ..."

I'm reading between the lines, but I assume "significant" in a colloquial sense, not a statistical sense. Can you quantify what this really means? For instance, if the shifty eyed people thought up 11 new things instead of 10, is that significant?

I'd want to learn more about the degree of the effect before I bought into it.

Another experiment I'd like to see done is to have the subjects sit with their eyes fixed facing forward, but have some object of interest swept across their field of view, causing them to have to track a specific item from their left field of vision to the right and back.

Unknown said...

Thanks Anon for your query. The researchers' scoring system does not make for the at-a-glance scoring comparison that you're after. Strong-handers in the eye movement condition did not dream up more uses for objects. However, the originality of strong-handers in the eye movement condition was significantly (in the statistical sense) greater than strong-handers in the control condition, as indicated by an originality scoring system that ran as follows: "originality, indicated by the number of responses provided by 0–5% pf participants (3 points), 6–10% (2 points) or 11–15% (1 point) of all participants in the sample". Strong-handers in the eye movement condition scored an average of 2.41 on this system vs. 1.03 among controls. Strong-handers in the eye movement condition also came up with more distinct categories of use than control participants: 1.92 vs. 1.5, on average.

Andy said...

Interesting article, well it may not help me write my novel, but least it may provide a more creative approach to using bricks than just building a wall! Seriously, it is thought provoking.

Cole Bitting said...

I was looking at lateralization for different purposes and found the BIS/BAS + Dominance model very helpful (Demaree et al 2005).

RE: eye movement, shifting back and forth could for a moment create a image dominant in the right hemi-side of the eye, reducing the right-hemispheres usual dominance for imagery, forcing left-brain activity. What happens from there, who knows. But if an associated response was to activate Behavior Activation Systems, more planning and problem solving would likely ensue.

Too many conjectures of course. But there is something about lateralization that to me seems likely to bear insight yet undiscovered. Good luck to the researchers!

Anonymous said...

I sculpt (sand) competitively in timed situations. Having a strategy for "forcing" a creative leap would give me a definite edge. I have found that smoking pot and/or spending time in a hot tub will frequently open my mind up to creative solutions - but I can't do either of these in the middle of a contest.

I am _very interested in this eye exercise thing.

Anonymous said...

Id like to see an alternative test with the brick actually coming at the patients in a forward motion ....would left handed people be less able to move their eyes to the left and thus dodge the on coming brick before it hit them on the head ?

Anonymous said...

11:50 PM anon: That's cheating. You can't smoke pot to boost your creativity. Bad bad.

Anonymous said...

I am smoking my eyes and moving my joint sideways

jacquie said...

I'm lefthanded with my fork and pencil but throw a ball with my right arm.....I'd say "right on" with this article but what is painting with my left hand and touching something up with my right......I never know which side I'll be comfortable with....forget knitting now that's a mess. Smoking pot may be the answer. Got some?

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