“My beloved. The delight of my eyes.” So begins a love poem written by Inanna, Queen of Sumeria, and inscribed in cuneiform on a lump of clay more than four thousand years ago. Poems, songs, stories, myths, legends, sculptures, paintings, temples, castles: romantic love has inspired countless works of creativity. Why does love trigger such a flood of inventiveness? Now scientists know why: thinking about your beloved makes you more creative.
Recently psychologists (Forster et al 2009) asked sixty young men and women to imagine taking a long walk with their beloved while also conjuring up feelings of intense romantic love for him or her. Participants without a sweetheart were requested to imagine taking a walk with an “ideal partner” instead. Meanwhile, different volunteers were asked to imagine having casual sex with someone they found attractive (but were not in love with). Then each group was given a battery of tests to examine their creative and analytical abilities. The results? Those who thought about a beloved became more creative, focused more on events way down the road, and lost some of their analytical dexterity. Thinking about sex had the opposite effect. These men and women became more analytical, started to focus on the here and now, and lost some of their creativity. Moreover, their second study duplicated these results. When participants were shown (subconsciously) words related to love, like “loving,” they became more creative and less analytical; but those exposed to words suggestive of sex, like “erotic,” became more analytical and less creative instead.
Why have we evolved a brain that gets more creative when we think about romantic times and more analytical when we conjure up thoughts of sex? These correlations could be coincidences. Those in this study who thought about a soulmate also reported that they felt “more in love” after indulging in these daydreams. And the feeling of romantic love can drive up dopamine in the brain, a neurochemical associated with creativity. Moreover, feeling sexual triggers the testosterone system, long known to be associated with analytical skills. But these brain links may have evolved for an important purpose: survival. In ancestral days, a lover’s creativity and long term view probably dazzled to a beloved, spurring him or her to bear and rear their young. And those who thought about sex acquired a spurt of analytical clarity, as well as short-term focus–assets that enabled them to bed a partner here and now. In short, thoughts of love and sex had payoffs: children–the ultimate measure of survival.
So why not take advantage of nature’s artistry: Daydream about him or her to boost your inventiveness at work. Put a romantic photo on your desk and in your wallet…and sneak peaks. Fantasize about romance in the shower, as you head to the office, even between business calls. Why not think about sex as well–to boost your analytical capabilities. And these new data may be particularly valuable to those suffering from romantic rejection. Jilted lovers often talk relentlessly, obsessing for months about what could have been. But this mental processing can become counterproductive—serving only to raise the ghost and add more pain. These studies suggest that if you want to get over you ex faster, it might be more effective to replace your thoughts of him or her with sexual fantasies. As you become more analytical and focused on the present, you will be acquiring important tools to help you rebuild. How remarkable: we can begin to use the secrets of the mind to improve our lives.
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Forster, J, K Epstude and A Ozelsel (2009) Why love has wings and sex has not: how reminders of love and sex influence creative and analytic thinking. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35#11: 1479-1491.