Playing Legos stifles creativity

If you watch a child building something with Legos, you can probably imagine what’s going through his or her mind: the frustration of the challenges encountered, the joy of placing that last piece, or the puzzlement of not knowing where to put a particular block. And you would probably guess that it's a beneficial activity that stimulates the brain and develops cognitive abilities. For the child, this is probably true, but it may not be equally true for you...

While children learn the basics of construction (and demolition) using Legos, the activity may actually put adults at a disadvantage. These are the findings of a study published in The Journal of Marketing Research. Two teams, one American and one Norwegian, led by Page Moreau at the Wisconsin Business School and Marit Gundersen Engeset de Buskerud of Vestfold University College in Norway collaborated on the research.

“There are a lot of studies that explore what enhances creativity. Ours is one of the few that considers ways in which creativity may be undermined.” Through their research, the authors have shown the adverse effects Legos can have on adult creativity.

For the experiment, the researchers recruited over 130 volunteers and divided them into two groups. The first group was given a Lego game and was asked to build a structure by following precise instructions. The second group was simply asked to build something using their imagination; no other instructions were given. The researchers then tested their performance on creative (free drawing) or non-creative (solving problems with defined rules and only one possible solution) tests.

The results were very clear: the participants in the Lego group scored less well on the creativity tests than those in the group with no instructions. The reverse however didn't turn out to be true: the participants in the "no instructions" group didn't have any trouble solving the problem that involved specific rules. It appears that having a goal in a first task decreases our ability to use our creativity in subsequent tasks.

“Well-defined problems are becoming ever more common--we Google something, for instance, rather than struggling to retrieve information from our memory--and that can be having negative effects on our creativity,” the authors explain.
Source: C. Page Moreau and Marit Gundersen Engeset. The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with Lego Influences Creativity. Journal of Marketing Research, 2015

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