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thinking outside the box

Passing this along from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

Thinking Outside the Box – Literally
By Christopher Shea
Just how potent is the metaphor “thinking outside the box”? To find out, researchers built a literal box out of PVC pipe and cardboard — 5′ cubed.

Roughly 100 test subjects were given a 10-question word-association test designed to measure one kind of creativity (sample item: What one word links “measure,” “worm,” “video”?). As they answered, participants sat inside the box, sat outside of it, or sat in a room sans box.

People sitting outside the box answered more questions correctly than either of the other two groups (and the difference couldn’t be explained by claustrophobia or confusion, both of which were measured). Creativity seemed to be spurred by the acting out of a familiar figure of speech, the researchers said. (The cover story for the experiment was that was exploring the effects of different work environments.)

In a variation on that experiment, people pondered creative puzzles while walking a rectangular path in a laboratory; freely departing from the path when they wanted; or while seated. Once again, people who walked “outside the box” had the most creative answers.

Source: “Embodied Metaphors and Creative ‘Acts,’” Angela Leung and six other authors, Psychological Science (forthcoming)