If you’ve ever caught yourself in a stage of infatuation, you may have noticed a boost in positive thinking and creative thought. The world just feels a lot more like a playground when you’re in love.
This isn’t just anecdotal— research conducted at the University of Amsterdam in 2009 shows us that people become measurably better at creative tasks when they think about love. Conversely, when asked to think about sex, people performed better on analytical thinking tasks than on abstract creative ones.
To understand this phenomenon, we first need to understand the difference between global and local processing. Or in other words, the difference between you noticing the whole of the forest versus the individual trees.
Global processing is a state of mind where the whole is greater (and more important) than the sum of its parts. It promotes creativity through big-picture and long-term thinking. Local processing, on the other hand, promotes analytical problem-solving through detail-oriented and short-term thinking.
Love is really, really good at prompting global processing. This is because love promotes “psychological distancing” (a method of increasing creativity) by forcing you to focus on events that are either far in the past (e.g., reminiscing about your first date), or far in the future (e.g., daydreaming about the life you want to build together). The path looks something like: love → long-term thinking → global processing → creativity.
As a fun twist, thinking about sex (without love) actually induces the opposite kind of processing— the local kind. Sex is seen as a short-term activity— something slightly more immediately salient than falling in love. Since it doesn’t require thinking about the far past or the far future, it’s likely to bring out your more systematic side. The path for this is then: sex → short-term thinking → local processing → analytical thought.
Of course, love and sex are far from mutually exclusive. This kind of left-brain/right-brain rhetoric can also be deceivingly reductionist. If you’re a sexual being in love, it’s likely that you’ll have a boost in both creative and analytical output. The data is clear though: falling in love can make you more creative, and thinking about sex can make you more analytical.
So the next time you’re stuck in a creative rut, just fall in love. Easy, right? ;) The general takeaway though, is that love and sex almost always makes you better— such is the human condition.