Maybe symbols are more literal than we thought

It turns out that seeing light bulbs actually inspires bright ideas. Who knew?

From LiveScience:

To see if light bulbs could actually promote insights, [social psychologist Michael] Slepian and his colleagues next gave college students spatial, math and verbal problems to solve and had either a bare light bulb or an overhead fluorescent light turned on in the room partway into the problem. The volunteers either solved the problems faster or more often with the light bulb than with the fluorescent light.

“Our environment can influence our creativity,” Slepian told LiveScience.

Maybe I should remove the lampshades from all our lamps.

But seriously, it’s fascinating to see how responsive we are to symbols of our own making: we imbue an image with meaning, and the image in turn inspires us to carry out what we’ve made it mean:

These findings suggest that it takes more than light to promote enlightenment. Instead, the researchers suggest our brains respond favorably to bare lightbulbs because they are familiar symbols of insight. This kind of so-called “priming effect” has been seen before in psychology — for instance, when shown artifacts from the business world, such as briefcases, people play economic games more competitively, and exposure to the American flag triggers aggressive behavioral tendencies among regular news watchers, due perhaps to how the United States is often linked in the news to attacks both against and from other parties.

Why not apply these findings to the real world? Bare bulbs in all the schools! Bare bulbs at the office! Bare bulbs at the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks! The researchers seem to be on the same page:

“Creativity is an important asset, and over and above individual differences in creativity, we find something as subtle as an illuminating light bulb in our environment can facilitate insight, and thus lead to more creative solutions to problems,” Slepian said. “It would be fascinating to see if this works in the classroom or in the workplace.”

And now, let me do my little bit to help you out:

Hope you have a brilliant idea today.

(Images credits: Schenectady Museum via NY State Conservationist, and BuffaloBloodDonor)


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