If you bored out of your mind and found yourself twiddling a pen, drawing a doodle, or just generally fidgeting with anything nearby? Turns out that same behavior could promote creative thinking and faster learning.
Researchers at New York University's Polytechnic School of Engineering are studying a group of 40 workers who use various "fidget widgets" to improve focus, ease anxiety, and boost creative thinking. The study taps a relatively new field of research called "embodied cognition" that maps the connection between body movementand cognitive functioning.
The same logic helps explain why students who take notes in longhand retain subject matter better than their laptop-toting peers, according to research conducted last year at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles. Or why children who play with blocks and puzzles show better performance on spatial reasoning tests, according to studies published in Psychological Science. Or even how counting on your fingers can improve mental arithmetic functioning in adults, which a 2011 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found. The growing list of connections between certain hand movements and cognitive functioning goes on and on.
Some of the popular options:
Click pen--Repeatedly pressing and releasing spring-loaded objects can stimulate parts of the brain that deal with creative problem-solving.
Smooth objects--Rolling magnets or stones back and forth can induce a mini-meditative state that helps the mind focus.
Stress ball--molding and reshaping virtually any rubbery material (including toys like Play-Doh and Silly Putty, or even a rubber band or hair tie) can help keep the mind stimulated while you're focusing on larger tasks.
Puzzles--Rubik's Cubes and other brain-teasers can provide a welcome distraction during down time.
Toys--desktop trinkets like a Slinky or Newton's Cradle (the five-ball pendulum present in practically every office ever depicted on film) can act as great stress relievers and conversation starters.