Science is now confirming what you might already have suspected: listening to music can make you more creative.And we’re not just talking about musical creativity — new scientific evidence suggests that exposure to music can actually improve your creativity across the board.
More specifically, listening to classical music with a positive emotional valence — think Mozart or Haydn — seems to stimulate divergent thinking, which is the key to creativity in many cases.
You might not be familiar with the concept of ‘divergent thinking’. When thinking about different modes of problem-solving, psychologists often use the concepts of divergent and convergent thinking to classify different approaches.
The two terms are easy enough to understand intuitively: convergent thinking involves focused, logical reasoning to reach the best solution to a problem. On the other hand, divergent thinking occurs when the mind is able to brainstorm and free-associate, coming up with multiple possible solutions, some of which might be surprisingly good (or surprisingly bad).
Each type of thinking has its uses, and they can even complement one another — many famous scientific breakthroughs occurred when convergent thinking failed to be useful and reached an impasse, with the switch to divergent thinking yielding a sudden and unexpected insight of brilliance:
Clearly, some balance between the two ways of thinking will be preferable in many cases. With too much convergent thinking, you might miss out on some brilliant idea or shortcut. But with too much divergent thinking, you might never get anything done, getting stuck at the brainstorming phase instead.
One thing is pretty clear though: our society tends to over-emphasize convergent thinking. There’s some good reason for that, as convergent thinking has so often been the driving force behind economic growth. But we could probably all use a little more divergent thinking in our early education, as many reformers have started to point out:
So if you’re currently stuck on a tricky problem, no matter what kind of work you do, consider taking a quick break and listening to some emotionally positive classical music.
That’s the lesson of these latest findings, which were published in PLoS One under the title Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking.
Who knows? It might help you come up with a creative solution to your problem.