Why a laser-like focus on something can actually inhibit creativity
Top Gear’s stunt in London last weekend attracted controversy, with George Osborne telling off Chris Evans and his team for distracting him at work as they filmed noisy ‘doughnuts’ near the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
Whatever the morality of showing dangerous stunts on public roads, distraction itself can be beneficial. Research shows that being distracted can improve creativity, memory and, paradoxically, focus. This is because when you concentrate, your brain ignores all irrelevant stimuli to narrow its attention. A laser-like focus can develop your thinking on a single aspect of a problem, but it also restricts the range of neurobiological approaches that can be taken. In experiments, people were given something to remember, and then some were exposed to a random distraction. These people were better at recalling information and coming up with creative solutions.
There are limits to how much distraction we can handle, but real ‘eureka’ moments can be sparked by broadening the number of possible solutions. Whether allowing George Osborne more creativity in constructing his budget is a good idea remains up for discussion.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London
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