The term “shifty eyes” has long been defined as “when someone avoids eye contact by looking left and right alternatingly very fast which arouses supicion of being dishonest.”  But now, according to research by Elizabeth Shobe, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toledo, there’s now a reason why being “shifty-eyed” can be a good thing.  In her research, she discovered the act of “shifting your eyes” back and forth, can actually enhance your creativity.

Recent studies have debunked the Left Brain/Right Brain myth that everything to do with being analytical is confined to the Left side of the brain, and everything to do with being creative is confined to the Right.  In fact, it is the connections among all brain regions that allow for both creativity and analytical thinking. The premise of Shobe’s research was based on clues that creativity benefits from cross-talk between the brain hemispheres.

Shobe’s team tested 62 participants on a version of the “Alternative Uses Test”, a divergent thinking challenge that involves dreaming up unconventional uses for everyday objects such as bricks and newspapers.  After an initial attempt at the creativity task, half the participants spent thirty seconds shifting their eyes horizontally back and forth. This exercise is thought to help increase inter-hemispheric communication. The remaining participants acted as controls and just stared straight ahead for 30 seconds.

The key finding was that on their second creativity attempt, those who’d performed the horizontal eye movements subsequently showed a significant improvement in their creativity, in terms of being more original (i.e. suggesting ideas not proposed by others) and coming up with more categories of use. Staring straight ahead, by contrast, had no effect on creativity.  One interesting note was they only found a difference in those subjects who were strong-handers (right or left-handers) and not for those who were ambidextrous, leading them to believe those who can use their right or left hand equally as well, are already optimally using “cross-talk” between their brain hemispheres.

Being “shifty-eyed” can be a helpful way to tap into your creativity – but do it quickly. The researchers also showed that the beneficial effects of the eye movement exercise lasted nine minutes for originality, but just three to six minutes in terms of coming up with more categories of use.

So, if you’re child is stuck on coming up with a creative idea for an essay topic or if they just need a quick boost of creativity, suggest they try taking thirty seconds to warm up those “cross-brain waves” and shift their eyes back and forth. Maybe it will help them find that quick inspirational idea they are looking for.

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