Ever wondered why some people don’t mind — and perhaps even enjoy — having idle time alone, while others aren’t particularly keen on it? Creative people actually enjoy the idle time more than other people do, researchers found.
In today’s world where there are so many distractions and accessible entertainment, there appears to be no shortage of ways to fill our time with. However, there are certain people who really do enjoy quite a bit of idle time.
Across history, for instance, there have been stories of famous minds like artists and philosophers who enjoyed having time alone with their thoughts, Jessica Andrews-Hanna of the University of Arizona (UArizona), the senior author of a study published in Creativity Research Journal, said in a university release.
For their work, researchers explored the hypothesis that “creative individuals are more engaged with their idle thoughts and more associative in the dynamic transitions between them.”
“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,” study lead author, Quentin Raffaeli of UArizona said in the university release.
As the researchers noted, there is already an “established body of research” on how creative people explore their “external world,” but not much on their “inner mental life,” particularly in “unstructured contexts.”
To shed light on the matter, the researchers conducted their study in two parts. First, 81 adults were asked to sit alone in a room for 10 minutes without access to devices. They were asked to voice their thoughts aloud, which were transcribed. They were then assessed for creativity through a divergent thinking test, which measures people’s ability to think outside the box, UArizona explained.
“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,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, creative people were less bored and more “engaged in their thoughts” even though they didn’t have access to distractions. They also talked more, which, according to Andrews-Hanna, was a sign that their thoughts moved more freely.
In a second test, the researchers looked at idle time in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this global health crisis, many people were left with more unstructured idle time with their thoughts than perhaps they were used to.
For this phase, 2,600 adults answered questions via the free Mind Window App. Interestingly, those who self-reported higher creativity actually reported being less bored during the pandemic.
“Overall, these results suggest a tendency for creative individuals to be more engaged and explorative with their thoughts when task demands are relaxed,” the researchers wrote.
These are certainly interesting findings in a current world where everyone appears to be so busy with so many things, whether it’s work or school or even the long list of entertainment methods available to people today.
“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,” said Andrews-Hanna. “Understanding why different people think the way they do may lead to promising interventions to improve health and well-being.”
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