We have been trained so well to associate the light bulb with insight and creative thinking that simply sitting under one can inspire, well, insight and creative thinking. That’s the conclusion researchers at Tufts University came up with after putting students through a series of experiments under both a bare incandescent
25-watt light bulb and an overhead fluorescent light.
In the first experiment, researchers sat students down in front of a screen that flashed 10 words linked
with insight (i.e. create, conceive, and envision), 10 unrelated words, and 20
non-words. Students were asked to say whether a word was real or a non-word as quickly as possible. The researchers found students sitting under the bare bulb responded faster to words linked to
insight than other words–possibly indicating that they associated light bulbs with insight.
A second experiment saw the researchers give students verbal, math, and spatial problems to figure out while sitting either under a bare incandescent bulb or an overhead fluorescent light. Livescience provides the details:
Seventy-nine college students were given three minutes to solve a problem where they had to connect four dots arranged in a square by drawing three connected straight lines. They were not allowed to either lift the pencil from the page or retrace a line, and had to end the drawing at the same dot it began with. (This involves drawing a triangle.) Volunteers exposed to the light bulb solved the problem twice as often as ones given the fluorescent light.
Thirty-eight college students were given sets of three words and told to come up with another word that could form a compound with all three. For instance, a triad of words might consist of “print,” “berry,” and “bird,” with the answer being, “blue.” The light bulb led volunteers to solve 70 percent more triads correctly.
The experiment doesn’t mean that fluorescent bulbs somehow make us stupid (good news for advocates of efficient lighting!). Rather, the increased insight comes from exposure to the symbol of insight–the bare bulb. Just to make sure, researchers performed the same second experiment using a bare incandescent bulb and a shaded incandescent
bulb. As expected, the results were the same.
The lesson: Surround yourself with symbols of insight if you want to work smarter. If that means sitting under a bare light bulb while your coworkers question your sanity, so be it.