There’s an interesting study where a test subject throws a baseball around in a circle with two other players. After some time of playing nice, the two other players only pass the ball to each other and the test subject is left out of the game.

The study found that the exclusion the test subject experienced was similar to physical pain. That social pain, in its neurocognitive function, is analogous to physical pain. This means that social situations can, literally, be painful.

Painful social situations can trigger our primitive threat reaction. A version of the same reaction you get when you suddenly see a snake. The one that focuses our thoughts and actions on escaping or getting out of the situation.

In another interesting study on creativity, half of the test subjects were given a maze where a mouse is trying to get to a piece of cheese. The other half were given the same maze, but with a picture of a threatening owl that might eat the mouse if it doesn’t get out of the maze quick enough. After solving the maze, all subjects were tested for creativity.

Even the slightest sense of threat, a picture of an owl on a piece of paper, reduced cognitive performance in tasks that required creativity. The test subjects trying to get to the piece of cheese scored much better.

Let’s recap:

  • Social situations can create a threat response
  • Threat has a negative effect on our creativity

So to have insights, be creative and be able to solve problems, we need to avoid the threat response and stay in a towards-state.

How do we do that? Stay tuned for my next post.