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Trying to think outside the box? Happy music to the rescue

When I come home and hear the Bee Gees or Roy Orbison blasting, I know my husband is cleaning. And, being a German who loves order and a clean house, I also know that he’s happy. Now I will be checking on his creativity as well.

As we examine the state of the music industry in the Treasure Valley this month, perhaps we should look at music’s benefits beyond the economic and into the world of business creativity. What if listening to certain types of music could boost your creativity and ability to solve messy problems?

A recent research study claims that listening to upbeat, happy music helps people think more divergently. In other words, they become more flexible, generate better ideas and find more novel solutions to problems. In the study, professors Simone Ritter and Sam Ferguson explored how being in a silent environment or one with certain types of music was in some way related to cognitive flexibility. They looked at four types of music — calm, happy, sad, anxious.

Their findings suggest that happy music was the best way to boost creative thinking. Many researchers have said that divergent thinking (looking for ideas from outside your discipline, considering a problem from a new angle) is critical for tackling problems that have no easy or clear solution. And that’s where music can help, especially if it’s something that perks you up or gives you an emotional boost.

So next time you’re stuck on a problem, crank up your happy music, whatever that may be. You might end up with a cleaner house as well.

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University.