Being in company boosts creativity

September 27, 2020

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Being in company boosts creativity

So many studies are now showing that working from home on a regular basis is bad for the individual, their family and the organization that employs them. This study adds to that growing list.

We process language differently depending on whether we are reading alone or in the company of another person, according to the study published in the journal Cortex.

The results of recording electrical activity in the brain indicated that when we read in company, our language processing is more heuristic, i.e. more global, controlled, integrated and more creative.

What the researchers say: “However, when we read alone, our language processing is more algorithmic, in other words, more automatic, limited and subject to rules”, explained the lead author.

To compare the effect of company and solitude on language comprehension, the researchers measured electrical brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

Participants read texts containing syntactic or semantic errors, half of them in solitude and the other half in company. Those reading in company showed activity in the precuneus, an area of the brain involved in social and attentional processing. In addition, their language comprehension was more global and integrated compared with that of subjects reading alone.

In the social situation, syntactic errors elicited a pattern of electrical activity characteristic of processing which is considered more heuristic and integrated. However, electrical brain activity in subjects reading alone showed a pattern characteristic of early, automatic processing. This lower level processing inhibited creativity and ingenuity.

The social isolation caused by the current coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity, prompting researchers to change perspective and conduct more research into social aspects of behavior and language comprehension.

“Given that company favors a more creative and integrated understanding whereas isolation leads to more detailed and systematic processing, we need to start thinking more about the impact of social interaction in research, in education and in professional settings where language comprehension is fundamental”, concluded the researchers.

So, what? Working in isolation was increasing before COVID-19 hit the stage. Driven largely by cost pressures, employers were encouraging work away from the office, hot desking, and similar arrangements. The virus has driven this process further and faster than anyone could’ve imagined.

This is dangerous for any science-based or professional service organization which relies on the creativity, ingenuity and clear thinking of its employees.

Incidentally a story in the Australian Financial Review claims that Australians working from home spent AU$2 billion setting up their home offices. That represents quite a saving to businesses.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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