It’s been said so often that it has now become a cliché – by it I mean that’s it’s better to be weird than normal. But in all seriousness it really is true. Weird people make life more fun. Everyone is weird, but the amount of weirdness per individual is what varies. Psychologists have known for some time that when we experience a novel situation we more easily store this event in our memory. The science behind why this happens is a bit long-winded but boils down to this: ‘Weird’ experiences cause a release of dopamine (a neurotransmitter related to motivation) in the part of our brain responsible for discovering, processing, and storing new sensory impressions. That hit of dopamine not only makes us more motivated to explore, but new studies have shown it also creates a stronger connection to long-term memory. Our brains physically remember the weird and atypical. “The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” On a psychological level we give strange ideas more value than those that support what we already know. As author Murray S Davis explains in his famous essay That’s Interesting!: “If it does not challenge but merely confirms one of their taken-for-granted beliefs, the audience will response to it by rejecting its value while affirming its truth.” Weird ideas and elements not only stick with us, but we give them more cultural value than those that just confirm what we already know and accept. Our brains take in an insane amount of sensory information every day, which is why we’ve developed filters to help us judge new information and pick out what’s important. A 2012 study from Google showed that new visitors to a website judge its functionality and aesthetics in 1/20th–1/50th of a second. In about as long as it takes to blink your eyes your brain has taken in, filtered, and decided what’s important. This all ties into the idea of cognitive fluency and how ‘easy’ our brains find a task. Typical and common elements are easier to process because we’re used to them. They feel simple to us. Too many complex or atypical elements and your brain tells you that this is a potentially hard task and you’re likely to move on. Psychologists have recently connected the idea of cognitive disinhibition with innovative creativity. Cognitive disinhibition is the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals. If we think back to those filters that help us parse through sensory information, they’re also the same filters that hold us back from reaching the ‘a-ha!’ moment of creative insight. “We give strange ideas more value than those that support what we already know.” While some of this comes down to genetics, there are proven ways to let seemingly unimportant and weird information in. Practices such as daydreaming, letting your mind wander, or taking a walk. However you do it, do you booboo.
Story by Jen Ruane.