Want a way to kick-start your creativity? Break out of your daily routines.
So says psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who discusses the findings of researchers from the Netherlands in an interesting article on the Huffington Post website.
Everyone has the ability to be creative, but as any writer staring at a blank screen can tell you, it isn’t always easy to find your muse. Experiences that take you outside your normal routines can trigger the creative spark. Psychologists have long known that to be the case for major life events, such as the death of a parent or a move to a new place.
Now, Kaufman reports, the researchers in the Netherlands have found that innovation doesn’t have to be inspired by a major event; just about any change will do.
“To test their idea,” Kaufman wrote, “the researchers put people in a virtual reality world where participants took a virtual three-minute stroll through the university cafeteria, and during the course of their walk experienced weird events that violated the laws of physics. In one event, as people walked closer to a suitcase standing on a table, the size of the suitcase decreased, but as they walked away, its size increased. In another event, people were made to feel as though they were walking faster than they really were, and in a third event, as people walked toward a table, a toy car inched closer to a bottle, but when the car actually hit the bottle, instead of falling to the ground it slowly moved upwards!
“They also had people take a test of cognitive flexibility where they were required to come up with as many ideas as possible to the question ‘What makes sound?’ Those who generated a greater variety of categories were scored as more cognitively flexible. Those who were actively engaged in the weird virtual-reality world scored higher on the test of cognitive flexibility than a group of people who engaged in a normal version of the virtual world, and higher than a group of people who just watched a film showing the unexpected events. They also found that their results couldn’t be explained by differences in positive or negative emotion.
“In a second experiment they asked participants to prepare a sandwich with butter and chocolate chips (apparently, this is a breakfast delicacy in the Netherlands …). Some people were told to prepare the sandwich in an unusual order, first putting chocolate chips on a dish, then buttering the bread, and then placing the bread buttered-side-down on the dish with the chocolate chips. They had another group make the sandwich in the usual order, and another group just watched a video of a person making the sandwich in either the unusual way or the usual way. Again, people who actively made the sandwich in the unusual order scored highest in cognitive flexibility compared with the other groups, and the results couldn’t be explained by differences in positive or negative emotion.”
The research suggests, then, that simple changes in perspective can inspire creativity. When what you expect to happen doesn’t, you’re forced to think about things in a new way.
“If you want to get into a creative mindset,” Kaufman concludes, “do your normal routine in a completely different way. Write with your other hand. Moonwalk backwards on your way to work. Eat something new for lunch. Smile at strangers. Be weird. With your brain re-shuffled, you’ll be in a better position to be creative.”
Don’t read this if you have a sensitive stomach.
This is really gross.
Mao Sugiyama of Tokyo was born with all the usual male parts, but apparently he didn’t feel like a boy. Didn’t feel like a girl, either. He seemed to think he belonged in a third category: asexual. And he meant asexual in the way dictionaries define it: “having no evident sex or sex organs; sexless.”
So he decided to have his genitals removed.
But that’s not all.
On April 8, Sugiyama issued the following tweet, according to the Huffington Post:
“I am offering my male genitals (full penis, testes, scrotum) as a meal for 100,000 yen [or about $1,250]. … Will prepare and cook as the buyer requests, at his chosen location.”
He wasn’t joking. Days after his 22nd birthday, he had elective surgery to remove his junk. Then he took his severed body parts, divided them “between five people and garnished (them) with button mushrooms and Italian parsley. On April 13, five of six diners who signed up for the $250-a-plate feast, sat down to dinner. The sixth person was a no-show.”
Dozens of others flocked to the venue to watch, and graphic photos went up on the Internet. (You can view them at the link above. No way I’m posting them here.)
No one was arrested, the Huffington Post reported, because no law had been broken. Cannibalism isn’t illegal in Japan.
Grossed out yet?
Death is scary. Most of us hope it isn’t an end but a new beginning, preferably in a better world without death or pain or illness.
That may be why we’re so fascinated with accounts of near-death experiences, those instances in which people pulled back from the verge of death report seeing tunnels of light and their loved ones waiting for them on the other side. They offer hope for a life beyond death.
Last year, “Heaven Is for Real,” purportedly a young boy’s account of seeing into the afterlife, sold like crazy. The book was written by the boy’s father.
It’s described like this on Amazon.com:
The book “is the true story of the four-year-old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. Colton (the boy) said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how ‘reaaally big’ God and His chair are and how the Holy Spirit ‘shoots down power’ from heaven to help us. Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.”
All of that may be true.
In many cases, though, near-death experiences aren’t what we think they are, at least according to British researchers. Last year, psychologists from Scotland’s Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, published their research into the phenomenon, saying that near-death experiences are byproducts of malfunctioning brains.
Those tunnels of light? They could be caused by poor blood and oxygen supply to the brain, according to the BBC.
Out of body experiences, like Colton experienced when he was looking down on himself in the operating room? “Such experiences could be artificially induced by stimulating the right temporoparietal junction in the brain that plays a role in perception and awareness,” the BBC reported.
Seeing loved ones? Feeling at peace? Those could be attributed to “noradrenaline, a hormone released by the mid-brain, (which) can evoke positive emotions, hallucinations and other features of the near-death experience,” the BBC said.
In fact, the researchers found, some people reporting near-death experiences were not in danger of dying — although most thought they were.
The psychologists’ verdict was spelled out in a scientific journal, Trends in Cognitive Science. “Taken together,” they wrote, “the scientific experience suggests that all aspects of near-death experience have a neuro-physiological or psychological basis.”
What do you think?