Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in A...
Why our best ideas happen in the shower17 September 2013, by Alexandra Gowling
Why is it that we can spend all day wrestling with a problem, only to have no success until we wake up the next morning, step under the shower and eureka! Just as it did for Archimedes, it all suddenly makes sense.
Carsten de Dreu, a psychology professor from the University of Amsterdam, explained that your original thought, special discovery or beautiful work of art most likely resulted from very ordinary processes that together led to that creative insight.
The creative brain
Creativity does not sit in a specific part of our brains, de Drue said. Rather, in order to be creative, lots of new connections need to be established between different parts of the memory. This happens spontaneously, especially when we relax.
This, then, is how the shower is often the key to that breakthrough idea. It is possibly the only place in the house and the only time of the day when we are not bombarded with information. Nonetheless, that flash of brilliance probably came from hours of puzzling over the problem.
"After a hard day of thinking, your brain is crowded and you can’t see clearly anymore," said de Dreu. "Once you get some distance, the irrelevant information disappears and suddenly space is created for connections between the relevant pieces of knowledge."
Sleep on it
It helps that your brain has calmed down in the hours before your morning shower. Research involving waking sleeping people showed that their memory was clearer at certain stages in their sleep cycle.
"Shortly after getting up, people’s hard drives, if you like, clear up. Then the information that blocks the connections is removed and only the good stuff is left," said de Dreu. There is also what scientists call the "incubation period" of ideas: the answer is already in your head, but it took a while to come through.
Photo by Flickr user stevendepolo
A shower is not actually essential: you can do other things to help your brain make those connections.
Riding your bike home from work or going for a run can also spark ideas, as can talking through things with someone else.
99 per cent perspiration
One other theory of creativity is a little less spectacular, but no less useful. There are indications that people also become creative by putting their brain to work.
This takes a lot more energy than relaxing and waiting for the right answer to float to the top, but actively thinking calls on different parts of your brain to work together.
The myth of the shower stays strong because that instant of genius while washing seems amazing, while coming up with an idea after hours of turning it over in your mind seems normal.
At least, that must be what was behind the invention of Aquanotes, a waterproof writing pad for the shower. Wonder where they thought of that?