Creative Minds Flourish When They Embrace Solitude and Idle Time

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona sheds light on the intriguing relationship between creativity and idle time. Published in the Creativity Research Journal, the study suggests that creative individuals are more adept at utilizing their downtime by delving into their thoughts and allowing ideas to flow freely. The findings reveal that during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period characterized by prolonged unstructured time, creative people experienced less boredom and exhibited greater engagement with their own minds.

Lead study author Quentin Raffaeli, a graduate student in the UArizona Department of Psychology, expressed particular interest in understanding the mental processes of creative individuals, especially when their thoughts are unconstrained. While previous studies have often prompted participants to think in specific ways or report on their thoughts, this study sought to explore the natural emergence and unfolding of thoughts in unstimulated contexts.

Historically, famous scientists, artists, and philosophers have often embraced solitude and idle time, which have been catalysts for their most profound ideas. In today’s fast-paced and digitally connected society, however, moments of undistracted contemplation are becoming increasingly rare, making this study all the more significant.

The researchers divided their investigation into two parts. In the first experiment, participants were asked to spend 10 minutes alone in a room without access to digital devices. They were not given any specific prompts but were instructed to vocalize their thoughts in real time. The researchers transcribed and analyzed the recorded files from 81 participants.

The participants’ creativity was assessed using a “divergent thinking test,” a verbal examination designed to measure the ability to think outside the box. Those who performed well in this test exhibited thoughts that flowed freely and were interconnected, often using phrases like “this reminds me of” or “speaking of which.”

Additionally, the first experiment revealed that creative individuals were more engrossed in their thoughts when left undisturbed by external distractions like cell phones and the internet. Notably, the creative participants reported lower levels of boredom and expressed their thoughts more extensively, indicating a greater freedom of mental movement.

To complement their initial findings, the researchers extended their investigation to the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many individuals found themselves alone with their thoughts more frequently. In the second experiment, over 2,600 adults utilized the Mind Window smartphone app developed by the researchers. Participants who self-identified as creative reported experiencing less boredom during the pandemic.

Given the mounting pressures, hectic schedules, and digital dependencies prevalent in modern life, the researchers argue that fostering opportunities for individuals to relax and engage with their thoughts is essential. They are continuing their research using the Mind Window app, inviting people from around the world to download and utilize the app. This collective effort aims to unravel the complexities of human thought in everyday life, potentially paving the way for interventions that can enhance overall health and well-being.

In an era characterized by constant stimulation and connectivity, the study underscores the importance of carving out moments of stillness and solitude. By embracing idle time, creative minds are more likely to flourish, leading to new insights, breakthroughs, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.


Quentin Raffaelli, Rudy Malusa, Nadia-Anais de Stefano, Eric Andrews, Matthew D. Grilli, Caitlin Mills, Darya L. Zabelina & Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna (2023) Creative Minds at Rest: Creative Individuals are More Associative and Engaged with Their Idle Thoughts, Creativity Research Journal, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2023.2227477