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This episode is brought to you by the Music for Scientists album! Stream the album on major music services here: Check out “The Idea” music video here:

Have you ever had a great idea or a burst of insight while taking a shower? Well, it turns out that shower thoughts are more than just an internet phenomenon, and understanding them better can help us harness their power for good!

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This episode is brought to you by  the Music for Scientists album, now available on all streaming services.

To start listening, check out  the link in the description. [♪ INTRO]. Have you ever been taking a shower when...wham!

A great idea strikes out of nowhere! If so, then congratulations! You’ve experienced a shower thought, or an  aha moment, a sudden burst of inspiration.

The concept of a shower thought has  become so pervasive in popular culture that there are whole subreddits dedicated to it, not to mention other corners of the Internet. You can even buy waterproof  whiteboards to hang in your shower so you can write down a shower  thought before it fades away. But are you really more likely  to have good ideas in the shower?

It turns out that shower thoughts  really are a scientific phenomenon, and understanding them better can help  us learn to harness their power for good. In scientific parlance, these shower thoughts, aka  the Eureka effect, are better known as insight. Specifically, insight involves  arriving at a solution to a certain type of problem: an insight problem.

Insight problems are complex problems that don’t have a straightforward  way to solve them. They’re different from the other types  of problems we solve on a daily basis, called analytical problems, that we tackle  using logic and step-by-step processes. Something like unclogging a sink drain is an analytical problem with  some straightforward solutions.

You know, the gross “do it yourself”  option, the just call a plumber option, etc. But figuring out that one innovation that makes  your plan for a flying car suddenly possible? Well, that requires insight.

The special thing that makes an insight  different from just a regular old good idea is that an insight solution  just pops into our heads, often when we’re not thinking  about the problem at all. Like, you could be looking  in the fridge, and then boom. You suddenly know who the murderer is in that period mystery drama  you’ve been watching...

Stefan. That’s because developing creative  solutions to complex problems seems to happen in our subconscious minds. Our brains are working to solve problems, even when we’re not consciously  thinking about them.

This is what psychologists refer to as incubation, and they’re still trying to  understand exactly how it works. And that incubation turns into inspiration, which is the actual psychological term  for when our conscious mind realizes the solution that our  subconscious has been working on. Your conscious mind takes all  the credit for your insight, and your subconscious  doesn’t even get a thank you.

The Eureka effect has gained near-mythical  status thanks to some pretty well-known examples. You know. Newton.

Apple. Gravity. But this doesn’t just happen  to the occasional genius.

In a 2015 study, a group of Australian  researchers surveyed 1114 respondents to see if they had experienced  an insight, and if they had, where they were when the insight struck. And it turns out that 80% of people had  experienced some kind of bolt from the blue! When it came to where people had these insights, the three most popular responses were at night,  at work, and, you guessed it, in the shower.

The researchers hypothesized that the shower was a hotspot for  insights because it’s so relaxing. When we relax, our brain’s right  hemisphere becomes more active, allowing us to come up with abstract solutions. Which also explains insights that happen during  other forms of relaxation, like falling asleep.

But a 2020 study published in the  journal NeuroImage revealed that. Eureka moments might actually  involve both sides of our brain. In this study, researchers  hooked participants up to EEGs to monitor their brain activity  while they solved anagram puzzles.

The EEGs showed that when anagram solutions  struck participants as sudden insights, there was a burst of neural activity  in the orbitofrontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain  associated with reward learning and pleasurable experiences, like  eating food and having orgasms. Translation?

Insights can make us feel good. The researchers speculated the  pleasure associated with insight may be why people enjoy solving  puzzles, reading murder mysteries, or inventing things, anything that can  prompt that sudden burst of insight. However, while insights might feel good, they can sometimes impact our  perceptions in negative ways.

A 2019 study found that participants were more likely to believe statements were  true while experiencing an insight, even if the statement was false. So while shower thoughts can give  us amazing insights into problems, they can also make us less likely  to consider other perspectives, and more likely to double-down  on incorrect conclusions. That’s because we mistakenly believe  that an insight is more factual because it seems to strike us out of the blue.

We’re more likely to just accept  that our insight is correct instead of evaluating it critically  to see if it’s actually right. But as long as we’re conscious of our biases, shower thoughts can be a  great problem solving tool! There are a few ways we  can increase our likelihood of having aha moments inside  and outside of the shower.

Various studies have suggested  that letting your mind wander, practicing mindfulness, and being  in a good mood can trigger insights. And if you’re at work, taking a  break to tackle something different, even if it’s only for a few  minutes, can help your subconscious mull over ideas and present you with that aha!. So it turns out that shower thoughts are  more than just an internet phenomenon.

And understanding them just  might be the first step to solving some of the world’s toughest problems. And it’s not just on the internet  that we talk about these things, inspiration has been celebrated in song, too. Like in the album Music for  Scientists, by Patrick Olsen, a musical celebration of science and scientists.

The song “The Idea” celebrates both inspiration  and the ideas we arrive at through hard work. And just like we talked about  not doubling down on our biases, the song celebrates wrong ideas  too; they’re part of the process! If you’re interested, you can check out the  link in the description to start listening, and to check out the music video for The Idea too! [♪ OUTRO].