Does Going on Holiday Make You More Creative?

July 27, 2016 Richard Justenhoven

image creativity

The Benefits of Taking a Holiday

We are in the midst of the holiday season and many people take time off. This will most likely give their brains some downtime as well. A few weeks ago we learned that it is beneficial for performance to give our brain a break. Breaks improve our focus, our learning, and our memory, and they also seem to be necessary for creativity. So does this mean that we will be more creative after our holidays?

This is what Jessica de Bloom from University of Tampere, Finland, and her colleagues Simone Ritter, Jana Kühnel, Jennifer Reinders, and Sabine Geurts were interested in. In their study, they asked 46 workers to complete a creativity test two weeks before and one week after their summer vacation. The test they used for this was Guilford’s Alternative Uses Task in which one has to write down as few alternative uses for an object (e.g., a brick) as possible. The test assesses flexibility (number of uses) and originality (number of unconventional uses). The result of the study was that after their vacation workers scored higher on flexibility (mean score of 4.2 vs. 3.6), but not on originality (mean score of 1.7 on both occasions).

The authors suggest different mechanisms to explain the result. First of all, the decreased level of short-term demands and stresses might contribute something since this has been shown previously to improve creativity. Moreover, candidates might also have been in a happier and more positive mood, which also has been shown to improve creativity.

However, there are also a few issues with this study, as outlined by Joseph Stromberg on the website Vox – and he has a few good points worth mentioning: The sample is small and all participants are Dutch. This means that the result could be due to random effects and even if there is a ‘true’ effect it might only apply to Dutch people. Moreover, there was no control group who completed the test twice without having been on vacation, so the improvement in flexibility could be due to a training effect as well. Thus, we can’t really conclude that a vacation improves creativity. However, it is quite likely that it does since we know how important breaks are for our brain to be productive and efficient. Tony Schwartz gives a nice overview of various studies in the New York Times. So even if a vacation is not beneficial for productivity, still make sure you do take time off so that your brain can function effectively.

References:
de Bloom, J., Ritter, S., Kühnel, J., Reinders, J., & Geurts, S. (2014). Vacation from work: A ‘ticket to creativity’?: The effects of recreational travel on cognitive flexibility and originality. Tourism Management, 44, 164-171.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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