Study: Moving – even in VR – can increase our creativity and problem-solving

[The study described in this short story from Massive Science is interesting both as a clever use of virtual reality and presence in psychology research and for the implications of its results for how we choose to structure our work activities in actual and virtual environments. –Matthew]

[Image: Figure 2 from “Studying the effects of visual movement on creativity”: “Three screenshots from the participants’ point of view in the moving condition, with the lights moving from front to back.”]

Moving – even in virtual reality – can increase our creativity and problem-solving

Feeling low on ideas? Trick yourself into thinking you are moving

July 7, 2020
Adithi Ramakrishnan
Developmental Neuroscience
College of William and Mary

Creativity in the workplace makes an individual an innovator and a company a changemaker.  However, cultivating creativity in an office setting can be challenging. Research suggests that moving around while thinking can have positive impacts on our creativity. But having company employees come up with ideas while sprinting on a treadmill isn’t exactly ideal, nor is it feasible for everyone.

A group of researchers in France and India has built on this idea by making individuals feel that they were moving, to see if that would provide the same creativity bump as does actually moving. In their study, published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity, they used virtual reality to “transport” 32 volunteers to an imaginary empty train car. Half of the volunteers experienced a still car, while the other half saw lights pass them by in the train windows, as if they were in motion and going through a tunnel.

While in the virtual reality environment, the study volunteers participated in tests designed to measure divergent creativity, the ability to come up with many different ideas to solve a problem, and convergent creativity, the ability to drill down to one correct solution based on many ideas.  Once each participant’s creativity was scored, the researchers compared the scores of the participants in stationary train cars with those in moving train cars.

The participants who conducted their creativity tests in a virtual moving train showed higher amounts of divergent creativity compared to those in still trains. From this, the researchers concluded that the simple perception of movement can improve our creativity and idea generation, whether or not we are actually moving. So if you are feeling low on ideas, strap on some virtual reality goggles and hop on a train, plane, or boat to recharge!

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