A little over a year ago an article caught my interest and its stuck with me now for a while which discussed the research performed by Elizabeth Shobe and colleagues around the concept that bilateral eye movement (shifting ones eyes back and forth horizontally) could result in improved creativity. My first thoughts where “wow all I have to do is sit here and move my eyes back and forth and I will get smarter”? Heck, that’s easier then doing a couple miles on the treadmill and also wonder if rolling my eyes in all these never ending meetings that I attend would count.
However on a serious note, what Dr. Shobe found is that this action of moving the eyes increased the cross-talk between the brain’s left and right hemispheres which are connect via the corpus callosum which is a big bundle of nerves that connects the two sides. To test this, Shobe’s team created a version of the “Alternative Uses Test” and challenged 62 participants to take a divergent thinking test that involved devising unconventional uses for benign objects such as bricks and newspapers.
Additionally, the researchers took note of what they felt an important fact which was the participants’ “handedness”. As prior research had suggested people who have one hand that is particularly stronger or in this case termed “dominant” are considered “strong-handers“, and have less cross-talk between the hemispheres of their brain as compared with individuals who are more “ambidextrous” or “mixed handed” if you will.
The researchers found that on a subject’s second creativity attempt, “strong-handers” who had performed the bilateral (horizontal) eye movements showed a significant improvement in their “creativity”, in terms of developing more original suggestions and ideas which were not proposed by others. This was a “key” finding as those who sat staring straight ahead, by contrast, had no improved effect on creativity.
Related to this finding, it also turned out that “mixed-handers” didn’t benefit from the bilateral (horizontal) eye movement as their “strong-handed” counter parts did. The results appeared to show that it as if they already had an “optimum” amount of hemispheric cross-talk, the eye exercise made no difference in the outcome. In summary what the research team concluded as that after the “strong-handers” had performed the bilateral (horizontal) eye movements, their performance “only” matched that of the mixed-handed subjects.
In conclusion the research team is quoted as saying: “Our findings may not apply to more unique populations who are characterized as ‘highly creative’,” the researchers said, “nor can we conclude … that the thirty seconds of bilateral eye movement task will turn an average individual into an artist, poet, scientist, philosopher, actor or sculptor. However, we certainly do propose that the … eye movement task will result in a temporary increase in a strong-hander’s ability to think of creative uses for various house-hold objects.”
It’s also worth noting that the effect of the movement only last 3 to 9 minutes so to make use of this trick in your day to day problem solving, it’s important to repeat this again after a few minutes to keep the effect up if you’re running short of creative ideas and the boss is looking your way…