Scientists have discovered that we humans are much better at solving puzzles if we are entertained or in a good mood:
In a just completed study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.
“What we think is happening,” said Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist who conducted the study with Karuna Subramaniam, a graduate student, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.
So: what does this mean for narrative artists? Maybe it means we should leaven our leaden loaves of dirty laundry with a commedia routine.
My work with contemporary narrative artists in all fields leads me to conclude that we are commonly eschewing the most traditional plot: time and space moving forward as it does in real life toward a climactic moment. Today’s storytellers are often creating story arcs that ask an audience to put together the pieces of a fragmented or shattered narrative — something like a puzzle. And if the science is correct, is it perhaps suggesting we may have better luck persuading our audiences to track the puzzle — to integrate the pieces or shards into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts — if they are able to laugh while they do it, or least be in a positive mood for a moment before plunging back into the puzzle?