Thinking, Unleashed

Is one physical state better for creativity than another?

By Amanda Furrer, published January 2, 2018 - last reviewed on April 17, 2018

Photo by Shutterstock

When forming ideas, many of us fall back on physical habits to get our creative juices flowing—some of us pace, for example, while others sit still. But is one bodily state really more conducive to creative thinking than another?

A set of experiments reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychology tested how Chinese college students fared on a range of creative-thinking tasks, such as listing unusual uses for an object or the consequences of a fantastical scenario, while in different physical states. In one study, they worked while standing, walking in a figure-eight, or walking freely; in a second study, they stood, sat in a chair, or lay on a bed. The participants came up with higher-rated responses while walking in a loop than while standing still, and even better ones while roaming freely—all in line with previous research. But the experimenters also found that students earned stronger ratings while standing than while sitting or lying down.

The researchers propose that more physically active conditions likely consume more mental bandwidth than less active ones, and so could reduce the amount of control people exert on their thoughts. That, they argue, may render them more flexible in their responses to creative questions like "What would happen if nobody had to sleep?"