You are at work and you have a problem that you are trying to tackle. Unfortunately, it’s a little tricky and you have to come up with a solution. Sounds familiar? If so, then listening to happy music while working may spark the kind of divergent thinking that’s associated with creativity and problem solving, a recent study in the Netherlands suggests.
In particular, classical music that ranks highly for positive and energetic qualities, such as pieces composed by Antonio Vivaldi, were most likely to encourage creative thinking, researchers found.
Ferguson and Simone Ritter of Radboud University Nijmegen played classical music for 155 Radboud student volunteers as they completed a creativity task. The researchers split the students into five groups, with each group randomly assigned to listen to one of four pieces of music or to silence before and during their creativity tasks.
The music pieces were chosen for their mood and arousal levels. The Swan by Camille Saint-Saens represented a positive mood but low arousal level, thus a calm piece of music. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was the happy piece, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber was the sad, slow piece and The Planets: Mars, Bringer of War by Gustav Holst was used as a negative, arousing – in other words, anxious – piece.
To test creativity, the research team focused mainly on divergent thinking, which involves producing multiple answers from available information by making unexpected combinations, recognizing associations among ideas and transforming information into unexpected forms.
Ferguson and Ritter asked participants to list as many different and creative uses for a common object as possible, in this case, a brick. They also tested convergent thinking, which measures whether someone can come up with the best, well-established or correct answer to a problem when the answer already exists.
Answers were then scored by the number, quality, creativity, originality and usefulness of the ideas. The students were also asked about their moods before the test began, as well as how much they liked the music.
The research team found that the students’ moods before the test didn’t seem to make a difference in their creativity in the task. It also didn’t matter how much they liked the music or how familiar they were with the music.
Overall, the type of music did not make a significant difference in performance on the creativity test, compared to silence, with the exception of happy music. Happy music also appeared to make the most difference in divergent thinking but not in convergent thinking.
Looks like that’s more music for thought. What do you listen to when you are work, play or just want to be creative? For me, it’s jazz!
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