There is a very simple improv warm-up game called “Seeing Without Labeling.” The players are moving around the space, then suddenly are coached to stop, let their eyes fall on any object in the room, and to immediately “see it without labeling it.” For a moment, re-imagine that chair as not a “chair.” See it as an object you’d never seen before. I’ve always loved the exercise for its practice of leaving the mind open and empty for the surprises and discoveries of group interaction.

A little more a “brain bender” is this game I came up with: Players are in a circle. Player 1 thinks of a simple space object. Player 3 thinks of a task you’d never think to use that object for. Player 2 must perform the task with the object. So, for example, Player 2 must fix a FLAT TIRE (Player 1’s suggestion) with a BIBLE (Player 3’s suggestion). Or, another example, Player 2 makes an OMELETTE (Player 1’s suggestion) with a FISHING ROD AND REEL (Player 3’s suggestion). And so on around the circle.

So yesterday, in Scientific American Mind July/August 2014 issue on The Creative Process, I was reading about research on the “Five Stages” of the creative process, and specifically the stage identified by the writer as “Insight.” Researchers have found differences in how the right hemisphere (generally associated with more spontaneous creative thinking) and the left hemisphere (for more analytical thinking) work in defining what you see.

“Both hemispheres are working all the time, (…). Research has suggested that you can tip the scales towards looser right brain understanding by describing objects or issues in unusual ways. For example, by thinking of a hanger as a long twisted wire, instead of a metallic instrument for hanging coats, you might discover other uses for it. Try this technique every so often as you are actually working to solve your problem. It might help prime your brain to forge connections between distant concepts.”

Once again, connections are being made between neuroscience and improv.