The Hour of Play is an experimental research project looking at ways in which play can facilitate creative thinking in adults. By focusing on a problem solving approach to creativity the study looks at the links between two seemingly related fields, psychoanalytical processes and the cognitive approach to creativity. Seen from a neurological viewpoint the two fields appear to describe a similar process. Both can be seen to describe creative thinking in relation to an increased access to the associative network; being described as divergent thinking in the cognitive approach and as primary process in the psychoanalytical literature.

The field of child development shows that fantasy play facilitates access to, and can develop primary process thinking. Research tests with children provide evidence that once engaged, this mode of thinking directly correlates to an affect state that is conducive to creativity as defined by the cognitive approach. The definition of fantasy play is identified and, based on the key determinants of the term, methods are examined that could be used to generate similar processes in adults.

An action research methodology was undertaken in the form of workshops that encouraged specific play related activities within adults. Correlations between play and an increase in associative thinking, in highly creative and lesser creative individuals, were found to occur that appear to correspond with theories of both psychoanalysis and creativity. These findings are discussed in relation to both the literature of child development and the cognitive approach. Project limitations and the potential for further theoretical and applied research are also presented. Based on the findings a model for an empirical research test which could show that play can benefit creative thinking in adults is presented as a conclusion.


They Rose in Clouds, creativity workshop poster

“One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in clouds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination.”

Henri Poincaré, French mathematician, 1854-1912

Poincaré’s quote tells the tale of how, after working on a mathematical formula for two weeks, he was able to find his solution whilst in a state of reverie where he saw his ideas forming before his eyes, as a result of these visions he was able to formulate the theory of fuchsian functions and groups.

That particular evening has entered into the legends of creative studies and has long been held up as evidence by those who believe that the links between the subconscious and the conscious mind are intrinsic to a person’s ability to create new concepts and products by piecing together seemingly disparate and unconnected ideas. This genius view argues that creativity is a rarefied and unique gift that is only available only to a chosen few.

Luckily for the rest of us there is another argument. One that suggests that creativity is inherent in everyone. This argument stresses that once the cognitive processes, which allow us to think creatively, have been identified we can then train and developed them in order to improve our creative output.

My research falls somewhere between these two opinions. In recent years technology has enabled us to look at the neurology involved in creative thinking but the research is still very much ongoing. I believe that the links and the ability to access the subconscious do play an important part in creative thinking, which is why it is easier to find the answer to a problem when you enter a state of reverie or a similar change of thought pattern by going for a walk/run, having a bath, or via a massive caffeine hit… a lá Poincaré. But i also believe that once we are aware of our creative processes, or methods of generating subconscious links, then we can develop these processes and improve our accessibility to them.

My direction came from a quote by Picasso, who stated that “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” So I have turned to the field of child development for an answer. Research evidence suggests that certain types of play can help to develop crucial psychological processes, which allow access to the subconscious and facilitate certain characteristics that are used to measure creativity.

My question is this, can these processes be triggered in adults by using styles of play and creative enquiry, and if they can will they have the same benefits?

The workshop has been designed around exercises that are intended to encourage these processes; the aim will be to engage a sense of creative enquiry through play and will involve drawing, writing and storymaking. The workshop is based on findings from a previous trial, but has been developed significantly from the original event, so those who attended the first trial will be in for a very different experience.

Spaces are free but will be strictly limited. This is partly because the group will be kept small in order to maintain a comfortable environment, but also because there are a limited number of special items which will be key to the workshop.

I have asked that anyone who is interested in coming to please “book”… by which I mean send me an email or twitter me @thehourofplay. Thank you.

the relationship between narratives and play in generating creative enquiry

The intermediate project explored ideas of psychoanalysis and explored how these ideas relate to theories found in both creative studies and play theory. Areas of insights resulting from this project are; primary process thinking in adults, generating creative enquiry, play as a creative environment, and (unexpectedly) the relationship between play and narratives.

My intention was to continue solely on looking at the primary process and creative enquiry part of the project, but on reflection I have decided to follow up on the most unexpected result from the practical intermediate study; narratives and play which I am increasingly seeing this as a very exciting and key part of the project. The links and more importantly the relationship between narrative and play when engaged in personal creative output will be the main focus of the Final Major.

The concept I am working towards is that play can facilitate a creative approach, and narratives are the structure that can guide play in that approach. Narratives and play, when both are allowed to be open-ended means, can support each other in creative exploration. It seems that play allows us the freedom to explore within a risk free environment whilst narratives grant full control of that environment. As the nature or need of the enquiry changes so too can the environment be changed and adapted in order to accommodate these needs and therefore benefit the enquiry.

Whilst psychoanalysis showed both a way of linking play with creativity as well as a means to explore these concepts, I intend to look at psychotherapy as a way of developing the potential impact of these initial insights.

a closer look at the mechanics of creativity

On Wednesday 16th of May I am running a small research study based on a couple of the creativity theories I have explored so far. The exercise will be in three parts and will be using an artistic definition of creativity so each exercise will involve some degree of either drawing or writing, however skills in these areas are not essential as time limits won’t allow anyone to create a piece of outstanding beauty, we’re talking stick men and scrawls really. The underlying concepts being looked at will rely on communication rather than artistic capability.

This is the first research study of this project and my main intention is to gain insights into a couple of key concepts that will be developed, over the next few months, into a larger and more rounded workshop or event.

Participants will be given the opportunity to win a prize in a game of “Poundshop Roulette”; however the small print states that this will depend on the prizes to participant ratio as well as the participant’s definition of a prize and level of expectation.

I have booked a back room in the Owain Glyndwr and we shall be meeting from 7.00pm on Wednesday, I envisage running the study in 2 or 3 small groups, depending on numbers, so there will be some time spent socializing in the bar area which is never really a bad thing and can also boost creativity. Honest.

I hope you can come, it wont be the same without you.


an explorer's toolkit.

I have been using the book “How to be an Explorer of the World” by the very brilliant Keri Smith. The book presents the reader with projects and tools to promote investigation, develop inquisitiveness, encourage stimuli to novelty, break out of routine thought patterns, and ultimately encourage playfulness.

I am also writing a paper on the work of the artist Nina Katchadourian, who I discovered through “How to be an Explorer of the World”, and am examining her work in conjunction with theories of play and creativity. For me her work expresses a beautifully humorous view of the world that has been filtered and reprocessed through a very playful mind. From writing this paper I’m hoping to get an insight into this mindset and, by also looking at early creative tests, identify a possible framework for my own little exploration of a world. Exciting.