This shows a man writing with books swirling around him.
The first experiment also found that creative people were more engaged in their thoughts when they were left alone without distractions, such as cell phone and internet. Credit: Neuroscience News

Creative Minds at Ease: Making the Most of Idle Time for Innovation

Summary: Creative people effectively utilize downtime by exploring their thoughts. The research demonstrated that creative individuals were less prone to boredom when left alone, as they allowed one idea to naturally segue to another.

The COVID-19 pandemic, a period of heightened unstructured time, saw creative people remaining more engaged and less bored. The study emphasizes the potential of idle time, often scarce in today’s fast-paced society, as fertile ground for creative thought.

Key Facts:

  1. Creative individuals use their downtime more effectively by letting their thoughts flow freely and associatively, often leading to innovative ideas.
  2. During the COVID-19 pandemic, creative individuals were less bored and more mentally engaged due to their ability to constructively use unstructured time.
  3. The study highlights the importance of preserving and utilizing idle time in an increasingly busy and digitally connected society, as it offers room for creative thoughts.

Source: University of Arizona

Creative people are more likely to make the most of their downtime during a typical day by exploring their mind, a new study by University of Arizona researchers suggests.

The study, published in the Creativity Research Journal, finds that creative people are more likely to fruitfully use idle time by letting one idea lead to another.

Study participants who were more creative felt less bored when they sat alone in a room, researchers found.

And during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when the world experienced unusually extended periods of unstructured time, creative people were less bored and more engaged with their thoughts.

“I am particularly interested in creativity because we wanted to know what’s going on in the mind of creative individuals, especially in situations where nothing constrains their thoughts,” said lead study author Quentin Raffaeli, a graduate student in the UArizona Department of Psychology.

In psychology and neuroscience, most studies on human thoughts either prompt participants to think in a certain way or ask them to report on thoughts they experienced, but less is known about how thoughts naturally arise and unfold over time in unprompted contexts, said Jessica Andrews-Hanna, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and senior author of the paper.

“This is where our study comes in,” Andrews-Hanna said.

History is filled with anecdotes of famous scientists, artists and philosophers who enjoyed being alone with their thoughts, and those people often generated some of their best ideas during idle time, Andrews-Hanna said.

“In today’s busy and digitally connected society, time to be alone with one’s thoughts without distraction may be becoming a rare commodity,” she added.

The researchers divided the study into two parts. For the first experiment, the researchers asked each participant to sit alone in a room for 10 minutes without any access to digital devices.

In the absence of any particular prompt, the participants were asked to voice their thoughts aloud in real time. The recorded files from 81 participants were then transcribed and analyzed.

The researchers assessed the participants’ creativity through a “divergent thinking test,” a lab-based verbal test that measures a person’s ability to think outside of the box.

Participants who performed well in the divergent thinking test had thoughts that flowed freely and were associated with one another, often indicated by phrases such as “this reminds me of” or “speaking of which.”

“While many participants had a tendency to jump between seemingly unrelated thoughts, creative individuals showed signs of thinking more associatively,” Raffaeli said.

The first experiment also found that creative people were more engaged in their thoughts when they were left alone without distractions, such as cell phone and internet.

“Creative people rated themselves as being less bored, even over those 10 minutes. They also spoke more words overall, which indicated that their thoughts were more likely to move freely,” Andrews-Hanna said.

To complement their initial findings, the researchers extended their study in the context of a much larger span of time – the COVID-19 pandemic –when many people were alone with their thoughts more often.

For the second experiment, over 2,600 adults answered questions through a smartphone app called Mind Window, developed by Andrews-Hanna and her graduate student Eric Andrews. Participants who self-identified as being creative reported being less bored during the pandemic.

“As we become more overworked, overscheduled and addicted to our digital devices, I think we need to do a better job in our homes, our workplaces and our schools to cultivate time to simply relax with our thoughts,” Andrews-Hanna said.

The researchers are continuing this line of work using their Mind Window app. They encourage people to download and use the app to help scientists understand how people across the world think in their everyday lives.

“Understanding why different people think the way they do may lead to promising interventions to improve health and well-being,” Andrews-Hanna said.

About this creativity research news

Author: Niranjana Sahasranamam Rajalakshmi
Source: University of Arizona
Contact: Niranjana Sahasranamam Rajalakshmi – University of Arizona
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Creative Minds at Rest: Creative Individuals are More Associative and Engaged with Their Idle Thoughts” by Quentin Raffaeli et al. Creativity Research Journal


Creative Minds at Rest: Creative Individuals are More Associative and Engaged with Their Idle Thoughts

Despite an established body of research characterizing how creative individuals explore their external world, relatively little is known about how such individuals navigate their inner mental life, especially in unstructured contexts such as periods of awake rest.

Across two studies, the present manuscript tested the hypothesis that creative individuals are more engaged with their idle thoughts and more associative in the dynamic transitions between them.

Study 1 captured the real-time conscious experiences of 81 adults as they voiced aloud the content of their mind moment-by-moment across a 10-minute unconstrained baseline period.

Higher originality scores on a divergent thinking task were associated with less perceived boredom, more words spoken overall, more freely moving thoughts, and more loosely-associative (as opposed to sharp) transitions during the baseline rest period.

In Study 2, across 2,612 participants, those who reported higher self-rated creativity also reported less perceived boredom during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time during which many people experienced unusually extended periods of unstructured free time.

Overall, these results suggest a tendency for creative individuals to be more engaged and explorative with their thoughts when task demands are relaxed, raising implications for resting state functional MRI and societal trends to devalue idle time.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.
  1. I would be willing to bet that there is a lot more to neuroscience and creativity than this speculative article would suggest. I am a creative individual and my partner an oil painter, metal sculptor etc is most certainly a creative individual and yet we get bored, the pandemic quarantine nearly killed me, because I am loving on below poverty wages in a one a roughly 280 sqft apartment with another adult so when I read things like this I wonder what were the economic and other factors that may have affected the participants. And how does one determine and differentiate a creative person from anon-creative person. It is very difficult to tap into ones inner creative when suffocating under the boot of economic inequality and other systemic oppression.😬😁That’s my two-scents, now let me get back to reading “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky.

Comments are closed.