When the Muses Strike: Creative Ideas of Physicists and Writers Routinely Occur During Mind Wandering

Psychol Sci. 2019 Mar;30(3):396-404. doi: 10.1177/0956797618820626. Epub 2019 Jan 17.


How often are creative ideas generated during episodes of mind wandering, and do they differ from those generated while on task? In two studies ( N = 98, N = 87), professional writers and physicists reported on their most creative idea of the day, what they were thinking about and doing when it occurred, whether the idea felt like an "aha" moment, and the quality of the idea. Participants reported that one fifth of their most significant ideas of the day were formed during spontaneous task-independent mind wandering-operationalized here as (a) engaging in an activity other than working and (b) thinking about something unrelated to the generated idea. There were no differences between ratings of the creativity or importance of ideas that occurred during mind wandering and those that occurred on task. However, ideas that occurred during mind wandering were more likely to be associated with overcoming an impasse on a problem and to be experienced as "aha" moments, compared with ideas generated while on task.

Keywords: creativity; insight; mind wandering; open data; open materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Creativity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Thinking / physiology
  • Wandering Behavior / psychology*
  • Writing