High School Teachers, I Told You So

I spent most of high school trying to convince teachers that daydreaming and gazing around the room is a large part of the creative process. In a surprising turn of events now there’s a new study, published in Nature, that says more or less the same.

They get there in a rather roundabout way. Melanie Brucks, who’s the lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, didn’t realize the true value of the study and named the thing “Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation”.

They recruited hundreds of people, matched everyone up in pairs, and asked each group to come up with creative uses for a product. Pairs were randomly assigned to work either in person or over video conference — and it turned out that people on Zoom came up with less creative ideas than people who had the chance to talk face-to-face.

The reason? People who look in the camera ignore most of what’s going on in their peripheral view. The narrowed visual focus narrows their cognitive focus, and this narrowing of the underlying associative process is what hinders idea generation.

Here you go, friends: don’t ignore your peripheral view.
And use daydreaming as part of your creative process.