We conducted three experiments to assess the hypothesis that mindlessness could be prevented with a simple linguistic variation. Subjects in the first two experiments were either introduced to new objects conditionally (e.g., this could be an X) or unconditionally (e.g., this is an X), and the objects used were either unfamiliar or familiar. In each study a different need was then generated for which the object in question was not explicitly suited but could fulfill. Only those subjects in the conditional-unfamiliar group gave the creative response and met the need. When subjects were asked explicitly to generate novel uses for the target items, they had no difficulty doing so. However, given the way we are traditionally taught, it simply does not occur to us to think creatively unless explicitly instructed to do so. In the third experiment we introduced an unfamiliar item in one of three ways. In addition to the groups used in the earlier experiments, we added a group that was led to believe that the object was identifiable (unconditional) but was currently unknown. We also added a second need to determine whether the original conditional group truly learned conditionally or if they were in search of an absolute understanding of the target object. Significantly more of the subjects in the conditional group gave the creative response to both needs.
Langer, E. J., & Piper, A. I. (1987). The prevention of mindlessness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(2), 280-287.