Many years ago, in the ancient Greece, Hiero asked Archimedes to find out a way to detect fraud in the production of gold coins. The governor suspected that the goldsmith would betray him, replacing part of the gold with silver.
Archimedes accepted the challenge and after much puzzling, one fine day in the public baths, as his body sank moving into the water, he found the solution. It is said that the genie came out of his bathroom naked running toward the house while shouting: “Eureka! Eureka”!
We do not know if this story is true, since the first source that mentions it is a rear roman book two centuries younger. But the truth is that many of us have experienced such a thing: some of our best ideas have come to us in the bathroom, taking a shower.
Dopamine: The neurotransmitter of happiness and creativity
Creativity follows its activation channels, which do not always coincide with the moment in which we are working actively looking for a solution. Indeed, history is full of brilliant solutions that have been conceived dreaming, taking a shower or in unlikely situations.
In fact, this is due to the fact that our brain is always working, even though we are not aware of it. While our conscious mind focuses on other tasks, our subconscious continues to work at full speed in search of a solution, which always appears when you least expect it.
Part of the answer lies in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an active role in the centers of pleasure and reward in the brain. In fact, this neurotransmitter not only affects our mood, but is also related to creativity. It is interesting to note that activities such as exercising, listening to music or taking a leisurely shower, help to increase the flow of dopamine.
In this regard, a team of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that when one of the dopamine receptors in the thalamus had a lower density, the filter that we normally use to censor direct information to the cerebral cortex, where it is processed, it is more weak, which greatly enhances the creative process as it allows ideas to merge together.
Also operating automatically helps
Another reason why the brightest ideas come when we’re under a shower is that at that moment we are totally relaxed and function automatically. In fact, neuroscientists have found that when we let ourselves be carried by habits is activated what is called: “the default mode network”.
In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina found that the ability to generate creative ideas and unleash the imagination, depends on letting go the cognitive control, which precisely happens when you activate the default mode network. At that very moment our mind stops the control that exerts on itself to focus more on herself and let flow the most absurd ideas.
In practice, we enter into a state similar to that of meditation, which promotes the free association of ideas, which is at the basis of creative thinking. So, if you’re looking for that brilliant idea, instead of sitting at a desk brainstorming it would be better if you go for a nice hot shower, you’ll see then that sooner or later you will find the perfect solution.
Beaty, R. E. et. Al. (2014) Creativity and the default network: A functional connectivity analysis of the creative brain at rest. Neuropsychologia; 64: 92–98.
Manzano, O. et. Al. (2010) Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals, PLoS ONE; 5(5): e10670.