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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Jaffe

State of forgetful mind? Is an Incubation period linked to creative process?

Note: A re-edited of the article of 2014 “Incubation period, State of forgetful mind: Linked to the Creative process”

May inhibiting old ideas have an “essential role” in developing new ones?

One of the best ways to get the creative juices flowing is to take a break from trying to get the creative juices flowing.

By stepping away from a task, you prevent your mind from fixating on a single idea or solution, becoming more receptive to fresh thoughts in the process.

Researchers call this incubation, but in everyday terms it’s more like forgetting the stuff that doesn’t work in the hopes of accessing something that does.

Eric Jaffe posted this Dec. 3, 2014

How A Forgetful Mind Can Be a More Creative Mind?

New research suggests that this process of creative forgetting doesn’t require a long incubation period, but can occur more or less in real-time. Call it micro-incubation; or, more formally, inhibition. In a series of experiments, psychologists Benjamin Storm and Trisha Patel of UC-Santa Cruz demonstrate that the very act of brainstorming new ideas can inhibit the recovery of old ones, and that as this instant forgetfulness increases, so too does a person’s creativity.

(New studies demonstrate that brainstorming is Not an effective session to generate new ideas)

“The results of the present research suggest that thinking and forgetting are intrinsically connected—that to think of new ideas can cause the forgetting of old ideas, and that such forgetting may play an essential role in promoting the ability to think creatively,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

To test creative forgetfulness, the researchers first simulated creative fixation.

They did this by showing test participants 8 everyday objects (such as a newspaper) and listing some baseline typical uses for each object (such as gift-wrapping). For half the objects, they also asked the test participants to generate as many alternative uses for it as possible in 1 minute—a standard test of creativity known as the “alternative uses task.”

Using newspaper as an example, the idea behind this experiment was that coming up with an alternative use like kitty litter required test participants to overcome a potential mental block in gift-wrapping.

What the researchers wanted to find out was whether a creative mind conquers that fixation by inhibiting it so much that it’s forgotten. So at the end of the entire experiment, the researchers asked participants to recall as many of the baseline typical uses (e.g. gift-wrapping) for each object as they could.

The results offered a glimpse of incubation in motion.

Participants recalled fewer baseline typical uses for an object when they had to come up with new alternative uses, compared to when they merely read the list of typical uses and didn’t perform the “alternative uses task.” I

n other words, something about coming up with kitty litter led the mind to discard gift-wrapping so completely that it couldn’t be recalled. Storm and Patel took the findings as a sign of “thinking-induced forgetting.”

The inhibition effect occurred no matter how creative the participants were trying to be.

Thinking-induced forgetting held true for participants who were instructed to generate common alternative uses, such as kitty litter, or highly unusual ones, such a paper toga.

Notably, though, recall was worse for those who tried to be highly unusual with their alternatives, as if the extra mental energy needed for extreme originality heightened inhibition.

Participants recalled fewer baseline typical uses for an object when they came up with new alternative uses (above, “thinking” bars) than when they didn’t (“baseline” bars); this was true whether the uses were unusual or common.JEP:LMC

In subsequent experiments, the researchers built on these initial results.

One test showed that creative forgetting was so strong that it occurred even when participants received partial cues during the recall test; for example, seeing g____-w____ wasn’t enough to remember gift-wrapping.

Another test found no signs of creative forgetting when participants expanded on, rather than blocked out, baseline typical uses (below)—a result that suggests inhibition can distinguish between fixation and inspiration.

“If existing ideas are helpful in facilitating the thinking of new ideas, then those ideas do not appear to be susceptible to thinking-induced forgetting,” the researchers report.

As a capper, Storm and Patel lumped all the experimental results together for a combined analysis.

They found that participants who showed greater levels of forgetting generated alternative uses rated as significantly more creative than their less-forgetful peers. By inhibiting potential fixations, they conclude, “participants were able to explore a more diverse and original search space, leading them to generate more creative uses.”

Now for some qualifications.

From a scientific perspective, the research isn’t perfect: the experiments have pretty small sample sizes, and the “alternative uses task” has been criticized as a poor proxy for creativity (is using newspaper as a toga original, or just silly?). It’s also far from certain that the results truly represented inhibition; maybe the participants did block out old ideas to consider new ones, or maybe the process of considering new ones interfered with old memory.

From a general perspective, it’s hard to know how to apply the findings.

Anyone can take a break when they hit a mental block, but how exactly would someone develop the ability to inhibit fixations on the fly?

In that sense, the research serves much more as a theoretical explanation of creativity than as a practical guide to nurturing it.

Those caveats aside, the research remains intriguing as another step toward better understanding the creative process. It also provides some solace to creative types who’ve had the unfortunate experience of losing a great idea because they didn’t write it down.

There may, in fact, be something worse than forgetting a great idea: not being able to forget that bad ones blocking it.

 

Are We Designing Nutrition Labels All Wrong?

One recent study says yes—and offers a better way forward.

Nutrition labels have the best of intentions—to keep us healthy—but they sure don’t have the clearest of formats. Four in 10 North Americans admit to no better than a “partial” understanding of them, according to a recent Nielsen survey.

Serving sizes, percentages, grams, daily values—parsing out what it all means requires more math, time, and vitamin analysis than most of us care to apply on an empty stomach in a crowded aisle.

Eric Jaffe published this Feb. 5, 2015

With all due respect to riboflavin, there may be a better way.

Psychologists Peter Helfer and Thomas Shultz of McGill University in Montreal recently found that the standard U.S. food package label measure inferior to several alternatives when it came to conveying nutrition information in a timely and effective manner.

In a recent issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, they argue that a simple one-number label called NuVal might be a better way to go.

“We find that the Nutrition Facts label, currently required in the United States, Canada, and a few other countries, is relatively ineffective in guiding participants toward nutritious choices, whereas some alternative schemes that present nutrition information in a more condensed form perform significantly better,” write the authors.

For the study, Helfer and Shultz compared 4 different nutrition labeling schemes (below).

1. One was the standard “Nutrition Facts” label we know so well, which shows how much of a particular nutrient can be found in a serving of food.

2. The others included a “Traffic Light” label, which gives red, yellow, or green indicators on several nutrition metrics;

3. a simple 1-to-100 nutrition score called a NuVal label; and

4. a Heart label, present on healthy food packages but missing on others.

From left to right, Nutrition Facts, Traffic Light, NuVal, and Heart labels.Via Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

The label experiment was conducted online with 192 test participants in the United States and Canada. Participants saw a screen with 4 food items (cereal or yogurt), each accompanied by one of the nutrition label designs, as well as a taste score.

After considering the information—some had 20 seconds per screen, others unlimited time—participants indicated which item they were most likely to buy. They repeated the task through 10 different food item scenarios.

Screenshot via archived experiment page

When Helfer and Shultz tallied the results, they found the NuVal design to be the “most usable labeling scheme” on both time and nutrition impact: participants who saw it made the quickest and healthiest choices.

Traffic Light labels took more time to process and also yielded significantly lower nutrition choices. Heart labels were fastest to use—though no quicker than NuVal, statistically speaking—but produced nutrition choices significantly lower than both NuVal or Traffic styles.

And then there was the standard Nutrition Facts labels. Not only did these take the most time for participants to consider, but they also led to the least nutritious choices.

These findings held true across all the survey variations, including when participants had unlimited time to make a decision.

NuVal led to significantly higher nutrition choices (top) but also required little time to process (bottom)via Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

The researchers were “somewhat” surprised to find that imposing the time limit on food decisions didn’t make much difference in the outcome.

On average, participants facing the 20-second clock made their choice in about 8 seconds. But those who took the untimed survey only needed about 14 seconds to pick an item. Together these data get to the core of the real-life shopping experience: sure, we’d like to make a healthy choice, but we also want to make a fast one and get on with our day.

Hence the NuVal advantage.

Compared to NuVal, the other three labels create what Helfer and Shultz call “decisional conflicts” that require too much time and thought. The complicated Nutrition Facts matrix, and to a lesser extent the Traffic Light label, require people to weigh a good many variables: go with an item high in salt and low in sugar, for instance, or choose one high in both and low fat?

On the other hand, the Heart label creates a decision conflict by not providing enough information.

“In contrast,” conclude the researchers, “a single-attribute scheme like NuVal resolves such nutrition conflicts, rather than highlighting them, thus providing more guidance for decision making.”

Nutrition isn’t the only factor in a grocery aisle.

Price obviously matters, as does taste, shelf placement, and brand attachment. (The researchers indeed found evidence of “consumer inertia“: test participants who saw actual brands, instead of generic food items, made less nutritious choices, no doubt from habit.) And Helfer and Shultz stop short of endorsing NuVal as the end-all, be-all nutrition label; all their test shows is that it was the best of this bunch.

But the larger point remains true: better label design could make life easier for consumers conscious of both their health and their time. It’s not you, riboflavin. It’s us.

 

Incubation period, State of forgetful mind: Linked to the Creative process

Inhibiting old ideas may have an “essential role” in developing new ones.

The very act of brainstorming new ideas can inhibit the recovery of old ideas.

One of the best ways to get the creative juices flowing is to take a break from trying to get the creative juices flowing.

By stepping away from a task, you prevent your mind from fixating on a single idea or solution, becoming more receptive to fresh thoughts in the process.

Researchers call this incubation, but in everyday terms it’s more like forgetting the stuff that doesn’t work in the hopes of accessing something that does.

Eric Jaffe posted this Dec. 3, 2014

How A Forgetful Mind Can Be A More Creative Mind

New research suggests that this process of creative forgetting doesn’t require a long incubation period, but can occur more or less in real-time. Call it micro-incubation; or, more formally, inhibition. In a series of experiments, psychologists Benjamin Storm and Trisha Patel of UC-Santa Cruz demonstrate that the very act of brainstorming new ideas can inhibit the recovery of old ones, and that as this instant forgetfulness increases, so too does a person’s creativity.

“The results of the present research suggest that thinking and forgetting are intrinsically connected—that to think of new ideas can cause the forgetting of old ideas, and that such forgetting may play an essential role in promoting the ability to think creatively,” Storm and Patel conclude in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

To test creative forgetfulness, the researchers first simulated creative fixation. They did this by showing test participants eight everyday objects (such as a newspaper) and listing some baseline typical uses for each object (such as gift-wrapping). For half the objects, they also asked the test participants to generate as many alternative uses for it as possible in 1 minute—a standard test of creativity known as the “alternative uses task.”

Using newspaper as an example, the idea behind this experiment was that coming up with an alternative use like kitty litter required test participants to overcome a potential mental block in gift-wrapping. What the researchers wanted to find out was whether a creative mind conquers that fixation by inhibiting it so much that it’s forgotten. So at the end of the entire experiment, the researchers asked participants to recall as many of the baseline typical uses (e.g. gift-wrapping) for each object as they could.

The results offered a glimpse of incubation in motion. Participants recalled fewer baseline typical uses for an object when they had to come up with new alternative uses, compared to when they merely read the list of typical uses and didn’t perform the “alternative uses task.” In other words, something about coming up with kitty litter led the mind to discard gift-wrapping so completely that it couldn’t be recalled. Storm and Patel took the findings as a sign of “thinking-induced forgetting.”

The inhibition effect occurred no matter how creative the participants were trying to be. Thinking-induced forgetting held true for participants who were instructed to generate common alternative uses, such as kitty litter, or highly unusual ones, such a paper toga. Notably, though, recall was worse for those who tried to be highly unusual with their alternatives, as if the extra mental energy needed for extreme originality heightened inhibition.

Participants recalled fewer baseline typical uses for an object when they came up with new alternative uses (above, “thinking” bars) than when they didn’t (“baseline” bars); this was true whether the uses were unusual or common.JEP:LMC

In subsequent experiments, the researchers built on these initial results. One test showed that creative forgetting was so strong that it occurred even when participants received partial cues during the recall test; for example, seeing g____-w____ wasn’t enough to remember gift-wrapping. Another test found no signs of creative forgetting when participants expanded on, rather than blocked out, baseline typical uses (below)—a result that suggests inhibition can distinguish between fixation and inspiration.

“If existing ideas are helpful in facilitating the thinking of new ideas, then those ideas do not appear to be susceptible to thinking-induced forgetting,” the researchers report.

As a capper, Storm and Patel lumped all the experimental results together for a combined analysis. They found that participants who showed greater levels of forgetting generated alternative uses rated as significantly more creative than their less-forgetful peers. By inhibiting potential fixations, they conclude, “participants were able to explore a more diverse and original search space, leading them to generate more creative uses.”

Now for some qualifications. From a scientific perspective, the research isn’t perfect: the experiments have pretty small sample sizes, and the “alternative uses task” has been criticized as a poor proxy for creativity (is using newspaper as a toga original, or just silly?). It’s also far from certain that the results truly represented inhibition; maybe the participants did block out old ideas to consider new ones, or maybe the process of considering new ones interfered with old memory.

From a general perspective, it’s hard to know how to apply the findings. Anyone can take a break when they hit a mental block, but how exactly would someone develop the ability to inhibit fixations on the fly? In that sense, the research serves much more as a theoretical explanation of creativity than as a practical guide to nurturing it.

Those caveats aside, the research remains intriguing as another step toward better understanding the creative process. It also provides some solace to creative types who’ve had the unfortunate experience of losing a great idea because they didn’t write it down. There may, in fact, be something worse than forgetting a great idea: not being able to forget that bad ones blocking it.

[Illustrations: Cienpies Design via Shutterstock]


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