Can *literally* thinking outside the box make you more creative?


Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habitsreviews recent research:

New research is pointing to a possible link between bodily movement and creative thinking. Psychological scientist Angela Leung and her colleagues at Singapore Management University got interested in this possibility because of the many common metaphors linking creativity and physical experience — “thinking outside the box,” for example. A rich body of recent work has suggested that such metaphors may derive from an actual and intimate link between abstract concepts and concrete experience, and that priming physical sensations can activate abstract ideas. Leung and colleagues wondered: What if it goes even further than that? What if physical experiences not only activate existing knowledge, but also trigger cognitive processes that enlarge knowledge in creative new ways?


The researchers then tested the platitude “thinking outside the box.”… To test the potency of this metaphor, Leung and her co-workers actually made a box, a five-foot cube, out of pipe and cardboard. They asked some volunteers to sit inside this box while they solved word problems, while others solved the same problems sitting just outside the box. This particular kind of word problem tests another form of creativity called “convergent thinking” — the ability to analyze relationships among remote ideas and come up with the one correct solution. Doing well requires insight and cognitive flexibility.

Again, the results clearly favored those who were acting out the metaphor. Compared to those inside the makeshift box, those on the outside generated more correct answers, suggesting that the physical experience fostered creative thinking. 

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