Are we getting better or worse at thinking creatively? A new study thinks we may be getting worse: “Google provides immediate answers, teachers ‘teach to the test,’ and over-scheduled lives leave fewer opportunities to discover or pursue new interests. Essentially, many of the problems we face on a daily basis are becoming increasingly more structured and well-defined. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the toy aisle. What used to be a staple of childhood, a box of loose Lego bricks and pieces, has been crowded out on the store shelves by the company’s themed kits.”

So, in an experiment, participants were asked to either build a Lego kit or just build something from a bag of Legos. Those who built the kit subsequently earned a lower score on a creative drawing exercise. Another experiment found that showing participants the design on the Lego box — rather than providing the step-by-step instructions — was responsible for the effect, which led to lower originality of the uses that participants came up with for a paper clip. A third experiment found that preferences were affected, too. Those who worked on several well-defined tasks (with a single, correct solution) — compared to working on creative tasks — were subsequently more likely to choose to play with a Lego kit rather than just a bag of Legos.

Moreau, P. & Engeset, M., “The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with Legos Influences Creativity,” Journal of Marketing Research (forthcoming).