Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Embodied metaphors and creative acts

K.-y. Leung et al. do a series of studies that suggest that embodiment of metaphors for creativity promotes creative problem solving. Given that across cultures and languages (e.g., English, Korean, Hebrew, and Chinese), metaphors associate creativity with bilateral physical orientations (thinking about a problem “on one hand” and then “on the other hand”), a first study probed divergent thinking (fluency, flexibility, and originality) by asking participants to imagine multiple uses for a university building complex while gesturing with their right hand towards a wall. During a second trial, control participants generated additional ideas while raising the same hand they had raised during the first trial; participants in the experimental condition, however, switched hands by holding their left hand toward the wall and their right hand behind their back while they generated additional ideas (participants were not aware that they would have to generate answers to the same question on both trials until the second trial began.) The experimental subjects who changed hands generated more ideas, which were also more flexible and original.

A second two part experiment looked at the "think outside of the box" metaphor by seating participants inside or outside of a 5x5 ft. box, who carried out a convergent thinking task (think of a word that is related to three cue words. For example, “measure,” “worm,” and “video” might elicit the fourth word “tape”). Participants who completed such a remote associates test while they were physically outside the box generated more correct answers. In a variation on the box theme, divergent thinking was then probed by noting the effect of having participants physically embody a box by walking in a fixed, rectangular path. Participants who could move freely were more creative in imagining identities of ambiguous objects.

Two further studies dealt with the “putting two and two together” metaphor (by noting the effect of physically moving blocks on convergent thinking), and imagining bodily motions in a virtual world similar to those of physically enacting such metaphors (as in the first and second experiments).

Here is their abstract:
Creativity is a highly sought-after skill. Prescriptive advice for inspiring creativity abounds in the form of metaphors: People are encouraged to “think outside the box,” to consider a problem “on one hand, then on the other hand,” and to “put two and two together” to achieve creative breakthroughs. These metaphors suggest a connection between concrete bodily experiences and creative cognition. Inspired by recent advances in the understanding of body-mind linkages in the research on embodied cognition, we explored whether enacting metaphors for creativity enhances creative problem solving. Our findings from five studies revealed that both physical and psychological embodiment of metaphors for creativity promoted convergent thinking and divergent thinking (i.e., fluency, flexibility, or originality) in problem solving. Going beyond prior research, which focused primarily on the kind of embodiment that primes preexisting knowledge, we provide the first evidence that embodiment can also activate cognitive processes that facilitate the generation of new ideas and connections.

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