Stir-Crazy Creativity

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Are you ready? You know it's coming. Along with the fantastic budding tree buds, the emerging hostas and the rising temperatures, the mantra –- that very irritating, yet common mantra of the summer months –- is about to spill from the mouth of some child in your life.

I'm b-o-r-e-d, the kid will groan. I can hear it now. And actually I do hear it now. Over and over and over again. My youngest, George, is infamous for saying the phrase. Following a full day at school and maybe a sports practice, he'll climb into the backseat of the car and immediately say it. Are you kidding me, kid?! And that's following a busy school day and a sports activity or maybe a clay class in the early evening. We are on the verge of summer with its emptier days to fill, so knew I had to prepare and to find some solutions.

The doldrums know no age. They've inspired artists throughout the centuries, including  Gaston La Touche, who painted Boredom in 1893. - COURTESY OF THE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons
  • The doldrums know no age. They've inspired artists throughout the centuries, including Gaston La Touche, who painted Boredom in 1893.

And what I found is that there are two ways of thinking that can positively influence creative thinking and output with bored kids: divergent and congruent thinking. Bear with me as I share a little research about both. Researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman did a study out of the University of Central Lancashire. They assigned participants either the tedious and humdrum task of copying numbers from a phone book or assigned them to a control group that bypassed the phone book assignment altogether. They then asked all participants to generate as many uses as they could dream up for a pair of plastic cups. This is a common test of divergent thinking, which is an essential ingredient for someone's ability to generate a plethora of ideas. Mann and Cadman found that the participants who had been assigned to the yawnful phone book task generated significantly more uses for the pair of plastic cups.

In another study, Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood at Penn State University, found a similar result using another mundane task and a different type of creativity test, this time measuring convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is another element of the creative process having to do with a person's ability to figure out the single, correct idea for a given situation. In this study, participants were made to watch various video clips designed to ready participants by eliciting four very different types of feelings: “relaxation, elatement, distress, or boredom.” After watching their assigned video clip, participants took what is known as a remote associates test, where subjects are given three seemingly unrelated words (for example: remote, picture, show) and asked to come up with a fourth word that links the three (in this example: television).

The results were the same as in the Mann and Cadman study. Participants in the bored category of the study outperformed the participants in the other three categories, arriving with bravado at the fourth word. The bored participants embraced the game, yearning to alleviate the boredom they had just experienced. This then led Gasper and Middlewood to suggest that the results of the study indicated that people are motivated to approach new and rewarding activities because they have been so bored. “Boredom results in you trying to approach something that, in this case, is more meaningful or interesting. It encourages people to explore because it signals that your current situation is lacking, so it's kind of a push to seek out something new,” Gasper explains.

Collectively, these two studies suggest that boredom can help with our creative work. When you need to be an innovative thinker and come up with new projects or programs (divergent thinking), start with devoting some time to the lifeless tasks first. You might then be more apt afterward to think up both more along with more creative ideas to explore. The same goes for convergent thinking. When you need to identify a problem and then offer a concise solution, boredom can propel you to want to do and think about anything other than how crazily bored you are.

So at some point this summer when a short person in your life begins to whine about how dull life is, offer to alleviate that boredom. Restless kids can answer your emails. Maybe fold your laundry. They could even read a little research on boredom (like this blog). Afterward, that bored boy (or girl) might blaze a trail of hot creativity and all because they stomped into the room, dramatically fell onto the couch and told you how very bored they were. Problem solved.

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