Neuroscience of Fun

People used to think that work and fun should not and do not go together. I had this business partner who shouts at us “Back to Work!” when we are having a meeting and we end up laughing and having a little bit of fun.

Studies show that fun is not just helping people become more productive and healthy, it can also create better morale for people at work.

Every 3 o’clock, our office holds a 3 o’clock habit which entices employees to play, have fun and do anything besides work even for just 5 minutes. Whether it is finding a couple of chocolate bars hidden away or passing around a stuffed toy and sharing trivia about each other or doing a quick game of rocks, paper, scissors to disengage the brain from work and to engage with each other everyday.

Why? Because the brain needs it!

We have several parts of the brain and while the Pre-frontal cortex is alert in doing its decisions, analyzing things, focusing on work, work, work, we gain insights for problem-solving when we are more relaxed and slightly happy. Based on studies, better moods give us better insights. There is more activity in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, and in the right anterior, superior, temporal gyrus as we are inward looking and not looking directly at a problem.

Since we solve problems all the time at work, it would be better if we have better quality decisions and if we are submerged in stresses, the quality of insights and solutions may also deteriorate.

There is also learned helplessness based on psychology that when we are not succeeding and experiencing stress, our performance is greatly affected. A quick way to get out of learned helplessness is to do something that is fun and something you can win at! A simple game or a 5-minute task that can engage other parts of the brain can help you be renewed and go back to work.

There are many levels why we need to innovate the way we do things. The brain needs to forage and find something new to be able to innovate. When the brain loses its desire to forage and ends up doing nothing but routine, it inhibits the development of the other parts of the brain that allows us to be more creative, relieve our stresses and remove the toxicity in the brain.

I was surprised to hear from my professor at Wharton, Dr. Michael Platt of Wharton Neuroscience Initiative that the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s have parts of the brain not developed and usually this happens in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and the Posterior Cingulate Cortex. When there is no more desire to forage, to explore, to seek creative things, this part of the brain is affected. This is the first part to get affected even before the memory gets affected.

Most people with Alzheimer’s are usually brilliant people and the toxicity that never gets released with enough rest, fun and recreation can cause the deterioration even of the memories.

Engaging the ACC and PCC with fun, exploration, improv games can cause these parts of the brain to innovate, create and have fun can release the toxins in the brain.

Fun is good for us.  It also engages the social brain and social learning which bonds people at work.  So whether it’s for one’s own sanity, to rejuvenate the work environment, improve morale and productivity, fun makes work a little less arduous.  People spend 8, 10, 12, 14 hours of their lives at work everyday.  Maybe we can do something to put in process the fun they might need to feel amazing and do more amazing things.

If you need to learn more about innovation, team building and leadership, email us at [email protected] for our innovation, problem solving, creativity, team and leadership programs.


About the Author:  Carelle Mangaliag-Herrera is an empowerment and motivational speaker, management consultant, coach, author and business communications expert using NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and Applied Neurosciences.  She is an NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner, Gallup Strengths Coach and is the President and CEO of Trainstation Inc. with offices in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and USA, a partner of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative under Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania.   She has helped top companies globally as well as marginalized communities and government institutions. She has been a performer on stage, TV, and film for nearly 30 years and has been an improv actor , a comedian and singer.  She is a wife and a mother of 2.