Creativity and Listening to Music (possibly) Don’t Mix

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As a confirmed music fan and a person who likes to think of themselves as creative, a press release from Lancaster University piqued my interest. It detailed a study that looked at students and their ability to perform creative tests with or without music playing in the background.

For myself, I’ve found that I only listen to music (or podcasts, or video essays) if I’m doing something mindless. If I have to concentrate or try and be creative, the music has to stop. It literally feels like I have too much going on in my head.

This research appears to confirm my impressions, but it should be noted that the experiments only had a small number of participants (30, 18, and 36), and the differences, whilst highly significant, were small. Interestingly, in the third experiment, general background noise (library noise, so not loud and distracting) didn’t appear to impact creativity.

Here is the press release:

The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.

Psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.

They found that background music “significantly impaired” people’s ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity—but there was no effect for background library noise.

For example, a participant was shown three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case “sun”) that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower).

The researchers used three experiments involving verbal tasks in either a quiet environment or while exposed to:

  • Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics
  • Instrumental music without lyrics
  • Music with familiar lyrics

Dr Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University said: “We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions.”

Researchers suggest this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.

The third experiment—exposure to music with familiar lyrics- impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.

However, there was no significant difference in the performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.

Researchers say this is because library noise is a “steady state” environment which is not as disruptive.

“To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem-solving.”

Reference:
Emma Threadgold et al, Background music stints creativity: Evidence from compound remote associate tasks, Applied Cognitive Psychology (2019). DOI: 10.1002/acp.3532

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Kids and Sport

A couple of years ago, I made the very popular argument that sports are not actually that popular and that we should be funding more recreational physical activities. I was particularly critical of the way funding goes to team sports as populist pork-barrelling.

Recently I stumbled across an American survey of children’s sports participation that suggested kids are playing less sports, less regularly, and that Armageddon must surely be upon us if this isn’t immediately addressed*. Obviously, I was terribly concerned and immediately emailed my local senator, before realising I’m Australian and think they are concerned about the wrong thing.

While sports, particularly team sports, make up a significant proportion of the organised physical activity of kids, this rapidly declines with age. The two biggest reasons for this change are people having a lack of time to be involved in organised activities, and injury and health issues (from people’s mid-thirties onward Source). Almost as if contact sports might result in injuries. Amazing.

I think the obvious solution is to stop placing such an emphasis on sports and instead focus on the activities we are much more likely to be able to do throughout our lives. But since kids are too young for sex, best to encourage them to go to the gym, go walking, riding, or running.

Now, being Aussie, I’m more interested in Aussie stats: call me a patriot. Our stats are slightly different from the US, showing that there has actually been an increase in kids playing sports, lead by increased participation in soccer and dance. Eight times as many girls doing dance, but boys are starting to get the hint about how to meet girls.

A similar Australian sports survey to the US one was done by AusPlay which looked at what people were doing for physical activity, and it matches with other data from the ABS and Roy Morgan.

top 20 activities
Source

This table hasn’t changed much, particularly when it comes to the top 3. Sometimes these tables are presented with jogging, athletics, running, and track and field separated, such that swimming comes out higher. But that’s just to confuse people or make swimmers feel like that aren’t painfully alone, staring at an endless black strip at the bottom of a pool, chlorine itching their skin, as they struggle toward their next breath. Regardless, it shows that the vast majority of interest is in fitness activities, not sports.

But those figures are for all Aussies. Kids have a different emphasis. Caring parents are desperate to turn out well-rounded offspring with plenty of torn ligaments, broken bones, and early stages of CTE by having them play sports. As a result, kids tend to ignore going for walks in favour of bouncing a ball off of their foreheads. But this quickly declines as kids enter their teen years, continues to drop into their twenties, then levels off until another rapid decline after 40.

child participation by age
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sport with age
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This isn’t the whole story, of course. As I noted in my previous article, participation is usually measured annually. Regular participation tells a slightly different story. Most kids are physically active at least weekly**, while adults are trying for three times a week. Or put another way, kids get dragged to sport on a Saturday morning (and maybe once after school depending on how mum is feeling after cocktail hour) and adults manage to go for a walk three times a week when the dog starts bouncing off the walls with energy.

adult frequency
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child frequency
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Likewise, the motivations for physical activity are also tied to what people actually do – namely health and fitness. The differences come in with enjoyment and socialising being higher for sports versus activity. Obviously, everyone loves having their ribs mashed into their lungs as they are tackled to the ground during a friendly game of football***, so it is completely understandable that people would rank these highly for sports. But I would argue that non-sports activity is potentially fun/enjoyable and can be very sociable. If you don’t believe me, go to any university gym and see how much fun the gang of dudes pretending to look swole in stringer singlets are having hogging the bench press.

reasons
Source

Attitudes are changing.

“If you go back in the old days, competition was probably the key driver of the sports,” Mr Fairweather said. “Now it is all about health and fitness, whether you are playing sport or physical activity.” Source

So with that change in attitude and lifetime participation, I think it is time to change our focus away from sports. Whenever these surveys are reported it is always couched in terms of how we need to encourage people back into sports – with pictures/videos of football players and fat kids lying on a couch gaming. But that is missing the point entirely. People are shifting away from sports for a reason. People actually prefer physical activity. We’re pushing kids to be involved in sports instead of setting up good physical activity behaviours for life.

Trying to increase sports participation isn’t the solution, it is the problem. Setting up kids to be physically active for life is the solution, and that requires a rethink and a reallocation of resources. We could start by not calling these sports surveys “sport” surveys. Unless we want to keep pretending walking is a sport.

*As opposed to the very concerning rise in the pastime of shooting US kids.

**Kids are generally more active than adults, though. This is something lost in these surveys due to the way activity is defined. An adult might go to the gym and have an intense 30 minutes of telling other gym goers about their new diet, but kids will spend several hours chasing each other around the playground in an attempt to ruin yet another pair of sneakers. The former will be counted as physical activity, the latter won’t.

***The type of tackle and how many ribs that end up broken will greatly depend on the most popular code in your area. Not every football code is wimpy enough to wear padding and not every code allows proper tackling instead of tripping.

Super Wings – Too Serious

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The latest craze in our house is Super Wings with the various character catchphrases having entered my own lexicon. Super Wings is a children’s toy advertisement TV show following the adventures of the red delivery jet imaginatively named Jett. The various sentient planes on the show have the ability to transform into robots and I’m left with some very important questions.

Jett is the series protagonist. Every episode he is dispatched to another location far across the planet to deliver a package. Yes, just one package. Anywhere on the planet. By jet plane.

How does this package delivery company manage to stay financially afloat!?!

I’ve crunched the numbers on a single 3,500km adventure and just the cost of fuel would be ~$3,000. That’s an expensive package. But Jett is modelled off of an F-16 Falcon which has a range of ~4,000km, yet routinely does deliveries of twice that distance. Not only would Jett have to stop over for fuel or do an aerial refill, neither of which have been shown to occur in the show, but those package delivery costs would also further sky-rocket.

This company’s package delivery economic model can’t work. Either the packages, which are often small items like badminton racquets, are freighted with super expensive delivery fees to only extremely wealthy clients, or the company runs at a massive loss. Now, we already know from the list of clients that many of the package recipients are not wealthy. One adventure sees Jett deliver a sled to a Moroccan villager, and whilst Moroccan’s aren’t living in the poorest African nation their average take-home pay is half that of an average Aussie. This leaves us with a company that has to be running at a loss.

But does it? They have to pay for that fuel somehow. Jett’s employment must be worth something. As a sentient transforming plane surely Jett must have economic needs to be met. Jett might be internationally famous, but I doubt that keeps a roof over his head and whatever equivalent of clothes on his back there is for an anthropomorphic plane – paint maybe?

That leads me to conclude that the package delivery company must be operating with an ulterior motive. It can’t be drug smuggling, even their profit margins couldn’t cover the ridiculous costs involved. Or maybe not. Maybe Jett and his deliveries are a cover for the smuggling operations that other delivery planes are involved with. Jett might be the publicity-friendly face covering for a much darker trade. Maybe sentient planes delight in trafficking human slaves around the world. If so, they already have the police in their pocket.

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There is another possible explanation for the company’s motives and it relates to Jett’s adventures.

Without fail, every delivery that Jett performs he manages to instigate a series of unfortunate events. You have to wonder if Jett is a magnet for Murphy’s Law*, is some sort of Clouseau-esque character, or an agent of mayhem. Regardless, these events require Jett to call on his friends, the eponymous Super Wings, to help clean up his mess.

Several of these Super Wings friends appear to work at or are based out of the same facility as Jett. It is unclear why a package delivery service would have such broad-ranging staff – police, rescue, passenger, a WW1 biplane. It is also unclear why they are always so readily on-call to help. Are they just waiting for Jett’s latest mishap? But the biggest question is how they manage to fund the involvement of all of these extra staff for every delivery adventure. I’ve already covered how expensive just the fuel would be, but a minimum of two staff per delivery, one staff member unable to perform their primary role whilst helping out Jett, and the extensive travel time to far-reaching parts of the planet, and we start to see a mounting cost that has to be footed by someone.**

But what if these unfortunate events and resultant adventures for Jett and the Super Wings are a deliberate act? What if Jett and his package delivery employers are secretly working toward nefarious ends? They could, in fact, be trying to drive socio-political instability in far-flung places around the world. The only question that would then remain is if Jett is a knowing participant in this nefarious plot or if he is merely a pawn in a dastardly game of epic proportions.

Hopefully, all of these questions will be answered as the Super Wings series unfolds.

*For anyone lucky enough to be unfamiliar with it, Murphy’s Law states: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

**Perhaps the aftermath of every episode is the delivery of an invoice for extra associated costs. Maybe that is how the package delivery service makes its money. Lure people in with a super cheap luxury personalised service and then charge for all of the added expenses incurred when Jett’s mayhem inevitably occurs.

Movies that need claws

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Hugh Jackman is a proud Aussie export. We love that he is a Hollywood A-lister, and even more that he makes the rest of us Aussies look awesome.

But, and there always is a but, Hugh has appeared in some films that could have been greatly improved with one simple addition. I give to you the list of movies that would have been much improved if Hugh had popped the adamantium claws and gone berserker.

Van Helsing
Let’s face it, anything would have improved this schlocky mess of a movie. Instead of Hugh turning into a werewolf toward the end, if he had turned into Wolverine and shniketied some vampires, this would have been watchable.

Australia
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Wolverine living in outback Australia? Then he could have taken on the invading army during the WW2 scene.

Scoop
Imagine a Woody Allen film with Wolverine in it! Imagine the boat scene with Hugh going Wolverine on Scarlet Johansen’s character, and Scarlet going Natasha Romanov on him! Imagine if this newly awesome film wasn’t directed by a creep!

Deception
Imagine if this film didn’t suck. I think adding Wolverine to the mix would have done wonders for this lame movie.

Real Steel
Wolverine versus Robots. I rest my case.

Swordfish
Who else wanted to see Hugh decapitate John Travolta in this film? Or any Travolta film barring Pulp Fiction?

Pan
I’m not sure anything would have made this a film worth watching, so claws wouldn’t have hurt.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Wouldn’t it have been great if Hugh was playing Wolverine…… Wait a minute. This movie sucked even with Wolverine in it.