Someday I was asked why someone’s most creative time was right before going to sleep. When asked, I remembered having read about the topic of when are the most creative moments in the day for some people. I also remembered that creativity gets potentiated the more our prefrontal cortex (a brain area related to conscious control of our actions and decisions…) relaxes its control; and just by doing a small network search I managed to find the reference to this article: “Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal“ .
What the authors of the study did was, like in most of these psycho-studies, to get a group of nearly 500 graduate/undergraduate students and make them solve some tasks. There were 2 test conditions: one early in the morning, at 8.30am, the other in the evening, at 5pm (which for some of us is only midday but that in this work is a proxy for bed time *sigh*). Plus two different kind of tests: the first were analytical –maths- things like solving equations and the like, those things for which you need to be focused and awake. The other kind of tests were more of the insight sort, that require a creative solution, like the one that follows:
“A man has married 20 women in a small town. They are all alive and none has divorced. The man has done nothing illegal. Who’s this man?”
Do you know the answer? If you think of yourself as an owl and are reading this by your morning coffee with your eyes still half open, that’s a yes. Well then, what the researchers found was that in most of those students that defined themselves as nocturnal, like owls, in case your biology classes got forgotten somewhere along the way 😛 their problem solving ability for the creative tests was higher in the morning than in the evening, whereas math capabilities remained somewhat stable throughout the day.
Now what does this mean? In this study they only test an early hour in the evening, time in which at least, in most western countries, nocturnal people don’t even start feeling close to bedtime. That’s why this work cannot dismiss the fact that many people, including me, have our insight moments before going to bed, when our prefrontal cortex begins to switch off. Or that we can even have two moments of maximum creativity a day.
What I am going to say now can get me into a dangerous zone because as Jonah Lehrer points out in TheFrontalCortex alcohol consumption –up to a certain level- also relaxes our prefrontal cortex and boost our creativity.
For a rational mind, prefrontal cortex control might seem like the highest evolutionary achievement. However, if it weren’t for the possibility of inhibiting its control from time to time none of all human innovations, discoveries and revolutions would have been possible.
So, c’mon, caress that creativity of yours, for this world need changes, and it needs them FAST!
*The answer to the riddle is the priest!