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Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others - Research
Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others - Research

Video: Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others - Research

Video: Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others - Research
Video: New study reveals why some people are more creative than others 2023, March

Neuroscientists are trying to find the connections between thought processes and the brain regions that are responsible for creativity.

Creativity is often defined as the ability to find new non-standard and useful solutions and ideas. In this context, it seems real that every person, not just "geniuses" like Picasso or Steve Jobs, has creativity - to one degree or another (by analogy with intelligence).

When we speak of creativity, we mean not only the ability to paint a masterpiece or the skill of inventing innovative products. Each of us has to "be creative" in everyday life. Someone comes up with what kind of dinner to cook from the remaining products. Someone is making Halloween costumes from old rags. All of this is also creative. The researchers emphasize that creative tasks are very diverse and range from “creative with a small K” like a homemade gift or joke to “creative with a big K” like writing a poem or conducting a scientific experiment.

In recent years, studying processes in the brain, psychologists and neuroscientists have come to the conclusion that a complex interaction between spontaneous and controlled thinking is directly related to creativity. That is, creativity requires the ability to give an independent and unexpected idea at any time, but it also requires the ability to analyze it for realism and performance - already through controlled thinking.

With all due respect to these achievements, the main question remains unanswered: why are some people more creative than others? This is exactly what the authors of a joint study from Harvard, Yale, the universities of Pennsylvania, Illinois and North Carolina tried to answer, as well as the University of Graz in Austria and Southwestern University of China. Scientists have suggested that part of the degree of human creativity can be predicted by assessing the effectiveness of the functional relationships of three neural networks in our brain.

Creative brain map

The experiment involved 163 people who were asked to perform a standard test for "divergent thinking" - to come up with alternative ways to use known objects. After the assignment, each participant underwent an MRI scan of the brain in order to determine to which areas the blood flow was maximal in the process of creative thinking. The functional interaction of different parts of the brain was also assessed. Scientists have looked at how the activity of one provokes the activity of another, if at all.

The test and MRI results were then correlated with each other. The researchers first selected the most creative responses to the task. For example, it is quite obvious that a person who proposes to use a sock as a water filtration system during outdoor recreation is more creative than someone who cannot think of anything more original for a sock than a “foot warmer in cold weather”. And then they analyzed how the brain function of these participants differs from others.

Based on this data, scientists have built a kind of "creative brain map." Of all the possible connections in the brain in the process of thinking (about 35,000), they rejected those that were not active at the time of the participants' creativity. And the rest just made up the so-called "highly creative network" responsible for generating original ideas.

By defining this network in this way, creating this "creative brain map", scientists set themselves a new goal. Will they be able to guess the degree of creativity of this or that new participant in the experiment, based on the MRI data? Will people with more effective connections within the brain's "highly creative network" perform best on creative tests? In other words, is it possible to estimate the degree of someone's creativity in advance with impressive accuracy?

A second experiment was conducted with people who were not involved in the process of creating a "creative brain map." Here, everything was the other way around: first, an MRI scan was performed to track the brain's work and make predictions about the participant's degree of creativity, and then they were given a creative task.

In the end, the researchers were proud to report that their assumptions came true. Indeed, there is a direct and significant correlation between hypotheses about the degree of creativity of the subjects and their actual results. Consequently, the connections found in the brain, collected in a "highly creative network", are really responsible for creativity and can be used in assessing human creativity. The more effective the connections noted by scientists, the more creative, respectively, their owner.

What happens on the "highly creative web"

As part of the study, scientists have determined that the entire "highly creative network" is subdivided into three subsystems:

  • basic,
  • mechanical,
  • controlling.

The basic subsystem is a collection of those parts of the brain that are responsible for spontaneous thinking, when we dream, invent something, have fun with crazy ideas that have come to mind. This subsystem is key in generating extraordinary ideas, searching for various options for solutions.

The controlling subsystem is a collection of those parts of the brain that are activated when people need to focus on the thought process and clearly track the flow of thought. This subsystem is key in testing ideas for performance, in determining their potential and in further development, if such potential exists. Thanks to this subsystem, a spontaneous idea is modified into a strategic plan to achieve a creative goal.

The mechanical subsystem is a kind of "switch" between the basic and control subsystems. A kind of scales that determine the value and significance of a particular spontaneous idea: does it make sense to transfer it for control and give it to further work, or is it not worth it.

It is curious that during habitual, everyday thinking, all these three subsystems together are not active. For example, when the monitoring subsystem comes into operation, the basic one is usually deactivated. And the main hypothesis of scientists was that the most creative people can simultaneously "turn on" subsystems that usually work in isolation.

In this sense, the "creative brain" is a "strange brain" that works atypically. That is, it can simultaneously activate subsystems designed to work in turn

It is noteworthy that professional creators took part in further research: scientists performed brain scans right at the moment when jazz musicians were improvising, poets were composing new verses, and artists were making sketches. And the hypothesis of the simultaneous use of subsystems that usually do not work together was confirmed, thereby endowing the invented "highly creative network" with great potential.

Now it is necessary to conduct a number of studies to understand how fixed these interconnections are in the brain, or whether this joint can at least partially be called flexible. And then to understand: is it possible to influence the interaction of subsystems? Could, for example, a passion for painting provoke the activation of a "highly creative network"? And is it possible, in principle, to talk about the development of creativity, or not?

By Roger Beaty, Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Neurology, Harvard University


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