Food for thoughts

Next time you’re preparing for that killer pitch, you might do well to lay off the biscuits and bring along a nice plate of chicken to the brainstorming session instead…

Next time you’re preparing for that killer pitch, you might do well to lay off the biscuits and bring along a nice plate of chicken to the brainstorming session instead…

Dr Kevin Hilton, of the Centre for Design Research at Northumbria University, is heading up a project looking at the effects that lifestyle and working environments have on ‘creative fluency’, ie the speed with which people can come up with a series of different creative ideas.

Two significant areas of his research are the roles that food and music have on the creative process.

“It’s not that eating more white protein makes you a more creative person,” says Hilton of his ongoing research, “but that if you have to complete a series of tasks, then this work suggests those kinds of foods are good for that.”

Consuming fish or poultry, so the thinking goes, enables the brain to be more alert. Fish has been known as a ‘brain food’ for years but only recently, according to the Institute of Food Research, has the connection between the omega 3 oils present in the humble mackerel and the human brain been fully realised (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega 3 fatty acid, is a major constituent of the human brain and retina).

“The thing about brainstorming sessions is that people are always given sweets and cakes,” says Hilton. “This in fact relaxes you, like with seratonin in chocolate. Contrary to the belief that being relaxed can make you more creative, research suggests that you can actually relax too much.”

Hilton also looked at how music affects the creative process. Essentially, listening to irritating music can, unsurprisingly, add to ‘cognitive load’, becoming an additional stress or distraction from the working process. So no more Emo in the office then. It also appears that volume (like sweets) can be counter-productive.

“Often, if people are close to deadline and need to focus, they’ll turn the volume up,” says Hilton. “But this has the reverse effect. Reading and writing tasks are greatly affected as the internal voice is overlaid with an external one.”

There are, says Hilton, wider implications for society at large. If more people are made aware of how they can manipulate their own personal design processes and question things more effectively, then they’ll get more control over their lives.

“We need to understand that design enters into all our lifestyles,” says Hilton. “But everyone is different so you have to look to change the things in your own life.”

Starting from the next CR editorial meeting then: fish fingers all round.

Dr Hilton is currently presenting a series of lectures based on his research. Email for details.

Graph images courtesy of

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