What Science Says about Creativity

by Heather Freiser

5 science-backed reasons to unleash the artist within

04 Min Read Time


In today’s busy, connected world, finding time for creative pursuits can seem more like a luxury than a necessity.

But what if we told you that creative time is just as important as exercise or downtime and that you’d be measurably better off — both professionally and personally — by making room for it in your schedule?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Recent scientific findings have shown that creativity is key to living a healthy, happy, productive life.

Here are five research-backed reasons to break your routine and see where your imagination takes you.

A study commissioned by Dropbox found that work environments that are “collectively creative” — more flexible and collaborative — have higher rates of job satisfaction.

“Flexible and collaborative” might mean freedom to dedicate time to pursuits of your choice. According to Harvard Business Review, companies that wish to be creative may benefit from sanctioning time that’s unproductive in the traditional sense, but that allows employees to widen their knowledge base and socialize their ideas (surfing the web or reading, for example).

Drexel University Professor Girija Kaimal studied the effects of making art on stress- related hormones in the body.

The experiment:

39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, were invited to create art for 45 minutes.

The materials:

Markers, paper, clay, scissors and collage materials

The science:

Before crafting, researchers recorded participants’ cortisol levels. (Cortisol is a biological indicator that correlates positively with stress.)

After crafting, researchers retested the participants’ cortisol levels.

The results:

After crafting, approximately 75 percent of participants showed lower levels of cortisol, indicating lower stress levels.

Dr. Kelly Lambert, a psychology professor at the University of Richmond, found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and promotes psychological well-being. Research-backed paths to happiness include:

  • Knitting
  • Woodworking
  • Growing or chopping vegetables

All were found to decrease stress, relieve anxiety and modify depression.

CNN says people who take on craft-based projects in midlife and older have a 45 percent less chance of developing cognitive issues such as dementia.

Easy ways to get creative at any age:

  • Arrange flowers.
  • Head to a painting studio.
  • Start a journal.

In a 2010 study, Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at University College London, scanned the brains of volunteers as they looked at 28 pictures.

He found that viewing art is linked to an increase in dopamine and activity in the brain’s frontal cortex that results in feelings of pleasure that are similar to those conjured by romantic love.

At the very least, let your mind wander.

If creative pastimes are not your thing, there’s good news: It may do you well to sit back and do nothing at all.

Research conducted by Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that people are more creative after they have been daydreaming or letting their minds wander.