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Q: Thinking in the shower ( No Answer,   23 Comments )
Question  
Subject: Thinking in the shower
Category: Science
Asked by: deannamichelle-ga
List Price: $2.50
Posted: 14 Nov 2004 12:59 PST
Expires: 14 Dec 2004 12:59 PST
Question ID: 428860
Why do some people think better (or come up with good ideas) in the
shower?  I'm not looking for someone's guess, as I have a few theories
myself, but would like information on research done in this area, or
several well-educated, thought-out proposals on the reason(s).
Answer  
There is no answer at this time.

Comments  
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: pinkfreud-ga on 14 Nov 2004 13:29 PST
 
I don't know of any studies on this phenomenon.

It seems to me that the "white noise" effect of the water might be a
factor, since it essentially neutralizes distracting environmental
sounds that are normally present in our daily lives.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: iang-ga on 14 Nov 2004 15:34 PST
 
Is there any proof that this phenomenon even exists?

Ian G.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: steph53-ga on 14 Nov 2004 17:01 PST
 
I use "white noise" when going to bed... I always have a fan going (
not pointed at me during winter ). The *noise* helps me to fall alseep
against any distractions....

Steph53
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: crabcakes-ga on 14 Nov 2004 17:25 PST
 
For what it's worth, deannamichelle,  *I* think better in the shower
too and wondered about this myself! I've often wished I had a
waterproof dictaphone so I could record my ideas!

For myself, I agree with pinkfreud, and the fact that it's the place
where only very young people disturb me, giving me actual time to
think!

crabcakes
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: mysteryreader-ga on 14 Nov 2004 17:55 PST
 
You may be interested in reading some of Edward de Bono's books about
Lateral Thinking, Six Thinking Hats and Creative Problem Solving.

The link here has a list of creative theorists and summaries of their
key points.  It mentions "Incubation"  -  a time after initial
fact-finding or problem description when no active work / conscious
thought is focused on the situation. And the "aha" moment.

http://kycreative.mis.net/creativity.htm


Based on personal work experience with computer programming teams and
also volunteer non-profit groups, I think "solved it while in the
shower" is a very common event (about equally common is the "figured
it out while driving to/from work" event), and that these could be
classified among the incubation-time occurances.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: frde-ga on 15 Nov 2004 00:30 PST
 
I've often noticed that I've solved problems in the shower.

I put it down to a variation of 'the Drowning Effect'
- when someone is immersed in cold water, the body rushes blood to the brain.
- this allows people to survive rather longer than one would expect

A variation of this is splashing cold water on ones head/face

I have long suspected that a warm shower has a similar effect.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: platonist-ga on 15 Nov 2004 02:41 PST
 
But how does a warm/hot shower replicate the effects of cold water
drowning. doesn't the blood rush away from your brain?
Great question though, and neat theories.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: frde-ga on 15 Nov 2004 05:21 PST
 
I am not sure that it is just the temperature.

Also jumping into a freezing torrent would stimulate most people to
jump right out again, rather than cogitate.

Water can also be useful to getting people to urinate ...
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: biophysicist-ga on 15 Nov 2004 07:15 PST
 
Do those people who think of good ideas in the shower spend any time
thinking in other locations?  A controlled study would compare shower
thought to non-shower thought.  My suspicion is that busy people have
relatively little undistracted non-shower thought.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: zn833-ga on 15 Nov 2004 09:08 PST
 
Just a side note, the man who came up with the idea to fix the hubble
space telescope did so in the shower.  The main reason for that,
however, is that he based the design of the repair on the design of
the shower head.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: frizbeeboy-ga on 15 Nov 2004 09:28 PST
 
I wanted to comment on the drowning theory...i would agree the body
does respond to certain environmental factors in a set pattern due to
our genetic makeup etc, however in this case doesnt the body know it
is not drowning...it is not until the body truely fears that it goes
into such a cascade of events...and i think i agree with the idea that
hot and cold plays a role...is the bodies natural reaction also to
send blood to the periphery to regulate temperature...just some
thoughts...as of now i got nothing to back it up...maybe if things get
all "heated" here i will do some searching on my schools
databases...ben
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: frizbeeboy-ga on 15 Nov 2004 09:40 PST
 
Here is an abstract of a fairly relivent article...


Changes of laboratory markers of cognitive brain function by
thermostimuli in the elderly*1

Thorsten J. Doering MD, a, , Janina Thiela, Birgit Steuernagel MDa,
Soenke Johannes PhDb, Alfred Breulla, Christina Niederstadt MDa,
Bertold Schneider PhDc and Gisela C. Fischer PhDa

a Clinic for Studies/Rehabilitation, Medical University Hannover, Hannover, Germany
b Department of Neurology, Medical University Hannover, Hannover, Germany
c Department of Biometry, Medical University Hannover, Hannover, Germany 

Received 7 July 1998;  accepted 10 December 1998.  Available online 25 May 2004. 




Abstract
Objective: Plain external applications of physical stimuli, which are
used quite commonly in geriatric care in Germany, have not been
studied for their influence on cognitive brain function. The aim of
this randomized crossover study was to examine the influence of
dermatoreceptive stimuli on cognitive brain function in healthy
geriatric volunteers.

Methods: Twenty-four healthy volunteers (23 women, 1 man) were
randomized into two groups (crossover design). Group A (mean age, 68.8
 6.2 [SD] years) was treated with a 10C to 12C cold stimulus for 10
seconds (a so-called "Kneipp face shower"), followed by a cold 10C to
12C wetpack at the neck for 1 minute. Group B (mean age, 69.8  5.3
[sd]years) was subjected to an identical procedure but with warm to
neutral temperatures of 34C to 36C. After 1 week the two groups were
interchanged. The parameters of interest were the critical flicker
frequency (CFF) and the latencies of the event-related P-300
potentials of the visual evoked potentials (VEP), which can be
considered an electroencephalographic marker of the cognitive
functional ability. The CFFs and the P-300 latencies and amplitudes
were measured directly both before and 10 minutes after the
application of the respective stimuli. In addition, the CFFs were
recorded 30 and 60 minutes later.

Results: After cold water stimuli were applied, the CFF increased from
32.55  2.26/sec (mean  SD) to 33.06  2.25/sec (p = .003) 10 minutes
after the stimulus. Thirty minutes later the CFF was still elevated at
32.95  2.3/sec (p = .043). The P-300 latencies, after cold water
application, decreased by 4.8% (p < .001), from 266.5  21.lmsec (mean
 SD) to 253.7  16.9msec. After warm stimuli they increased from
258.69  14.8msec to 266.17  20.lmsec (p = .01). The P-300 amplitudes
were significantly elevated, by 5% (p = .004), only after cold
stimuli.

Conclusion: Cold water applied locally to the face and neck region can
provoke significant changes in electroencephalographic markers as
measured by an electroencephalographic marker (VEP and P-300 latency)
and, by inference, may help to improve cognitive function in the
elderly.
 

Corresponding author. Reprint requests to Dr. Thorsten J. Doering,
Medical University Hannover, Clinic for Studies (OE 5440), Carl
Neuberg Str. 1, 30625 , Hannover, , Germany.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: frde-ga on 16 Nov 2004 02:01 PST
 
frizbeeboy

Nice research paper.

Anout the 'drowning reaction', a long time as kids, at school we were
shown an experiment where one of us had to lie on a plank balanced on
some pivot.
First the subject was told to do some fairly complicated mental
arithmetic, the plank tilted towards the head, then the subject was
told to do imagine that they were running, and the plank tilted to the
feet.

The 'body' certainly knew that it was not running.

There is another factor, the warm water effect, which I sort of knew
about, but read about here recently. To stimulate healing of a boil,
it is recommended to put a warm/hot compress on the area, this opens
the capilliaries and stimulates blood flow to the area.

Personally I reckon that the 'shower effect' is a combination of
factors, but that increased blood flow to the brain comes into it.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: bathrocks-ga on 17 Nov 2004 16:50 PST
 
I'd like to add that taking a warm shower is very relaxing too, and
when I'm relaxed I find it much easier to think creatively.  Re: cold
showers - I can't stand them, and never have them by choice - hence am
not relaxed and don't think!

Mike :-)
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: synaptic_sunshower-ga on 18 Nov 2004 08:19 PST
 
I do a lot of thinking in the shower too, and I think I find answers
in the shower out of a necessity to expend energy.

I have some/lots of energy, and while out of the shower i expend my
shower on eating, cleaning stuff up, more snacking, some light a
cigarette, talking to people, looking at the list of things to do at
work, and sometimes even doing work.

While working, if I hit a difficult problem, I'll direct my energy
towards researching, avoiding, procrastinating or simply finding other
work to do.  If I have to find an answer and time is running out, the
energy is directed into stress and frantic wheel-spinning by typing
out prototypes, looking for workarounds or simply trying that idea
that 'should have worked'.

While in the shower, its just you.  Theres no TV, theres no
cigarettes, fridge, or even clothing to fiddle with while
avoiding/working on the problem.  You can't 'try that solution that
should've worked' again, you can't research anymore.   This is forced
incubation.

If you don't have the discipline to sit still for 15 minutes at your
desk and think through a problem, the shower is an excellent problem
solver.

This also applies to travelling around - as long as theres nothing
interesting to look at, no maniacs to avoid on the road and nothing
terribly interesting out the window... eventually your brain will
either focus entirely on a problem with all its might in an effort to
find a solution, or it'll start oozing those creative juices out of
your ears... the energy has to go somewhere.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: fractl-ga on 18 Nov 2004 13:36 PST
 
If you think a shower is a good way to solve problems...try a bath.
The majority of the projects/essays I had to do in HS were (at least
partially) completed in the bath.  I believe you get the same results
as a shower but the added opportunity to record your thought without
getting a really soggy paper.  White noise isn?t much of a factor for
me...I think the lack of distractions and perhaps even the warm water
is enough to get me to work.

I was quite disappointed when I went to college and found out that
there were only the communal shower stalls to use.  I can confidently
blame all my bad grades on that :P

I also find the moments lying in bed before and after sleep to be
quite stimulating.  I came up with some really revolutionary ideas
right before falling asleep (can't recall what they were for the life
of me, though).
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: flajason-ga on 21 Nov 2004 07:31 PST
 
When taking a shower, I think most people have a fairly regular
routine. i.e., soak the hair, shampoo, rinse the hair, lather the
arms, then the torso, then the back, then the legs, etc.
This is a fairly automated task brought on by years of conditioning,
and during that time the conscious mind is not focused on coordinating
motor skills or planning. You are pretty much on auto-pilot.
This is my theory of why people are also more creative when performing
a simple hobby that they enjoy. Over the years they have developed a
level of proficiency in their chosen hobby that allows their mind to
go blank and ponder on other topics that normally would not receive
much attention during other activities.
I would venture that if you placed someone in the shower that had
taken baths all their lives, they would not find it as mentally
stimulating as the rest of us 'pro' showerers, as they would need to
dedicate more concentration on the actual act of showering itself.

And for what it's worth, this theory was conceived while showering...
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: cameron_g_cooke-ga on 24 Nov 2004 02:24 PST
 
Yes, people do think better in the shower because the water falling
from the shower head causes the air to become staticly charged which
causes all the dust particles in the viscinity to clump together and
fall to the ground. A simmiler effect can be observed with a
thunderstorm where the water causes the air to be charged and you get
lighting. After the storm there is hardly any polution in the air
because all of the particles have clumped and fallen to the
Ground.This causes you to breath more freely and thus take in a higher
persentage of oxygen form that atmosphere. You would then relax and be
able to think Freely.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: xaviar-ga on 28 Nov 2004 19:23 PST
 
I think that Descartes' whole "cogito, ergo, sum," thing might have
some relevance, here.  It's just that when you get rid of other
distractions, your mind wanders.  For those that don't know, if I
recall correctly, it goes something like this:  Descartes locked
himself away without any distractions for an extended period of time,
to see what would happen.  He came away from the experiment with the
thought "Cogito, ergo sum," or "I think, therefore I am."
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: tobytyler-ga on 30 Nov 2004 05:43 PST
 
I recently read an interesting book called
"A Technique for Producing Ideas" by JW Young (1940).

It is a small book, republished as an advertising classic by McGraw-Hill. 

I would paraphrase Young's steps as
1) Explore inside the square thoroughly;
2) Think outside the square;
3) Search for new relationships between the ideas from 1) and 2);
4) Think till exhausted;
5) Sleep on it to allow the subconscious mind to examine new relationships;
6) The Eureka moment (in the shower);
7) Application of the idea.

He claims that the Eureka moment requires all 5 prior steps.

Lastly, I am reminded of an old saying:
"Everyone who has taken a shower has come up with a bright idea, but
the crucial step is to act on that idea".
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: toliman-ga on 03 Dec 2004 09:40 PST
 
i tend to like tobytyler's answer to the question, but i don't believe
it has anything to do with temperature, electrostatic discharge of
ateam, chlorine & hydroxide in the steam produced, etc.

it has more to do with activity in the nervous system, the good old
brain, engaged in alpha/theta brainwave states. so it's more to do
with the white noise, the abundant amount of sensations in the CNS as
the mind switches from an alert, active state, 'beta' into a
non-aroused 'alpha' stage, the limbic system in the brain performs the
usual shower related activities, scrubbing, breathing, standing,
rinsing etc., while the neocortex is aroused with incoherent data that
is not being matched into patterns or associations, it simply
stimulates the brain into activity that is likely not connected to the
input stimuli, creating new thought processes that are non-linear, or
not pattern associated, i.e. creative thinking.

alpha/theta states in the brain are symptoms of daydreaming, commonly
associated with automatic function of various behaviour,
jogging/driving, performing repetitive tasks, listening to long
speeches, lectures, non-interactive processes, standing in line, or
just performing tasks with no higher brain functions. the brain cools
off, and switches into the alpha state. within this "1st gear" of the
brain, unconscious behaviour performs tasks while the higher functions
are disconnected from the sensory part of the brain to reconstitute
patterns and associations.

unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do to study the neurological
effects of theta waves, people are usually non-communicative when in a
relaxed mental state. since it's fringe/alternate medicine issue as
well, that hypes up the value of theta/alpha states to some
questionable edification. interesting theories and material about
sensory deprivation / floatation tanks has similar effects to
showering @ http://www.oceanfloatrooms.com/7_theories.htm

IMO, its likely due to the stimuli of water hitting the skin, a
repetitive sensation, the white noise sound of the water as
indecipherable noise, the temperature of the water also being at a
comfortable level, increases the comfortable feeling  that one
associates with a shower, the sensation of relaxation once the brain
has started to switch states into that daydream, alpha stage starts to
trigger endorphins to further the relaxing process. as the sensory
cortex starts to assign value to the sensation and assign recognition
and cognition to the sensory data, it finds no need for the higher
functions to operate when there's no immediate cognition, just
repetitive stimulation, the brain recognises as a sign to just turn
off for a while. still, the brain is bombarded with sensations it then
has to assign meaning - the pattern matching part of the brain is
trying to discern meaning and patterns to the data being processed,
while the rest of the brain is in a non aroused state, the sensations
are fed into the creative side of the brain, disconnected from the
'left brain' logic and cognitive process, and fed into the 'right
brain' sensory and association parts of the brain.

something like that.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: whatsup_342-ga on 30 Dec 2004 16:01 PST
 
According to my opinion, people think more than in the showers because
the environment in the bathtub or the shower is enclosed and is "away"
from "normal life".  When you are in a "normal environment" such as a
room or outdoors, you have more stuff to do and complete such things
as unfinished tasks. But when you get away from such setting into a
much more controlled and regular setting such as a shower or riding on
the bus alone, you have nothing to do except think and think because
you are already used to seeing and feeling the environment you are in,
so after some 100 times of regular visits causes you to think more
about other, more important things such as life and other *Einstein*
branded brilliant ideas.
Subject: Re: Thinking in the shower
From: whatsup_342-ga on 30 Dec 2004 16:03 PST
 
I think...
It has nothing to do with water and other chemicals.  :)

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