The Science of WINNING Race for Science

Our Communications Research Executive Naomi Elster talks us through how to win at Race for Science...using science!

We have a guest writer today! Our Communications Research Executive Naomi Elster walks us through the benefits of events like Race for Science, and gives us some science-approved tips on how to win the game.

The science of WINNING Race For Science

We all love our smartphones, right? Ever felt something a bit like panic or dismay when you know you’re hours away from a charger, and your phone buzzes to tell you you’re on the last 14%? Felt as though you could never switch off? Turned up to a social event where everyone’s on their phone all night, so no one really talks to each other?

It gets worse, unfortunately, because Canadian scientists studied over 600 people in three separate studies and came to the conclusion that many people’s brains are actually getting lazier thanks to their smartphones, as people who generally rely on intuition rather than logic for thinking fall into the habit of searching on their smartphone for information they already know.

But it doesn’t have to be that way: imagine an immersive event where your smartphone actually brought you closer to the people around you, as it challenged you all to solve puzzles and overcome mental challenges. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Race for Science is just that event: immersive, challenging, what you get when you mix a scavenger hunt with an escape room. Your team will be summoned to missions and sent clues via your smartphones, and besides being a lot of fun, cracking codes has benefits. Some research suggests that boosting activity in the part of the brain linked to thinking and problem-solving might decrease anxiety. And the type of curiosity associated with exploring new environments and learning new things – exactly the kind of person who would love Race for Science – is associated with creative problem-solving and a study from Oregon State University’s Department of business suggested companies looking for employees to fill complex jobs should be choosing people with this trait.

And because it’s nothing new that the right level of healthy competition is great for any business, let’s see if science can give us any tips to help WIN the race.

Choose the right team and stay in tune.

The American Psychological Association found that groups of three, four or five people did better at solving complex problems than the same number of even very good individuals. This kind of “collective intelligence” can be better when there are more women in a group, according to one study. This might be because the women in the study were thought to be better at reading their teammates’ emotions and communicating. The same study found that teams where one member dominated didn’t work as well.

Think outside the box.

Usually, folding paper at a conference is a sign of boredom, but in 2002, the prestigious meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a session on how origami could help the study of science and maths. Or, to take the metaphor literally, you could look at how Kenyan hyenas behaved when trying to get meat out of a puzzle box: the ones which got their dinner were the ones who weren’t afraid to approach new things (none of them had ever seen a puzzle box before) and tried the most solutions.

Don’t sit still.

In 2009, a study at the University of Illinois became the first one to show that body movement could influence problem-solving: people who were told to solve a problem while swinging their arms were more likely to succeed than people who were told to stretch. And more recently, in 2016, a pair of psychologists discovered that being able to use their hands helped another group of people to solve a problem.

Don’t fixate.

Researchers at Goldsmith’s College, London, studied brain scans while volunteers solved problems and concluded that focusing too much on one thing could trigger a mental block. And while it’s not exactly in the spirit of Race for Science, and won’t help the missing Doctor Smithkins, who may well be running out of time, “sleeping on it,” might help, as science suggests that creative problem-solving is enhanced by REM sleep.

Read Naomi’s other post about how problem-solving in Race for Science are not so different from problem-solving in the lab here.

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