New research by Simone M. Ritter et al. in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology seems to corroborate the truth of the old cartoon series “A Change Does a Man Good.”
You probably don’t remember the mild little cartoons in the series, but they tended to show situations like a man in a fedora scolding a police officer for parking next to a fire hydrant. Change can make one feel good.
It can also make one more creative.
In “Thinking Creatively: Just Add Milk” at Miller-McCune (now called Pacific Standard), Tom Jacobs describes an interesting experiment Ritter and her team conducted.
“Dutch university students were asked to prepare a breakfast sandwich popular in the Netherlands.
“Half of them did so in the conventional manner: They put a slice of bread on a plate, buttered the bread and then placed chocolate chips on top. The others — prompted by a script on a computer screen — first put chocolate chips on a plate, then buttered a slice of bread and finally ‘placed the bread butter-side-down on the dish with the chocolate chips.’
“After completing their culinary assignment, they turned their attention to the ‘Unusual Uses Task,’ a widely used measure of creativity. They were given two minutes to generate uses for a brick and another two minutes to come up with as many answers as they could to the question: ‘What makes sound?’
“ ‘Cognitive flexibility’ was scored not by counting how many answers they came up with, but rather by the number of categories those answers fell into. For the ‘What makes sound?’ test, a participant whose answers were all animals or machines received a score of one, while someone whose list included ‘dog,’ ‘car’ and ‘ocean’ received a three.
“ ‘A high cognitive flexibility score indicates an ability to switch between categories, overcome fixedness, and thus think more creativity,’ Ritter and her colleagues write.
“On both tests, those who made their breakfast treat backwards had higher scores.”
OK, one question: chocolate chips for breakfast?