Nov 2, 2009

De-structure Yourself

Intelligence is anything but monotone, and we’ve tried to cover more than a few angles of its multi-faceted nature. For example, one way of measuring intelligence is to look at the number of connections a brain can make, or the “plasticity” of a brain. Plasticity is highest when we are very young, which helps us learn language and social norms quite quickly. It should come as no surprise then that one of the most basic of childhood pursuits- playtime- is also a major contributing factor to intelligence.

It has been well documented that unstructured playtime is very important in the development of a myriad of characteristics, including social skills and stress relief. But it is also critical in the development of problem-solving skills and creativity. When kids have the freedom to play outside the constraints of school, parents, or some other pre-ordained organization, they end up finding their own activities and solutions, many of which can be more rewarding than anything produced outside their own mind.

One particularly interesting aspect of the data available is the importance of rambunctious faux fighting, which turns out to be one of the most important types of imaginative playtime- a callback to our more primitive roots. In the modern world we’ve made for ourselves, it’s important to remember just how hard-wired these basics can be.

The idea of unstructured play inevitably comes back to the concept of a fixed mindset and growth mindset. When someone is used to relying on their own brain to find a solution (for example, to boredom), they won’t shy away from finding their own solution when they are confronted with another type of problem. Instead of insurmountable obstacles, the brain sees challenges and imaginative ways around them.

While the subjects observed in these studies were children, it’s still important to schedule in some unstructured time as adults too. Creativity is always something adults complain about losing as they gain the wisdom of years and experience- perhaps they could get some of it back if they only tried. Who knows- they might even learn something.

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