I suppose we would all like to think of ourselves as having ‘creative’ minds, and I’m sure there are approaches and behaviours that would go a reasonable way towards helping most people get closer to that state. Recent research from the University of North Carolina however indicates that the people at the zenith of creativity might actually have a demonstrably different brain to the rest of us.
According to the paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers found distinct modes of connectivity between three key networks in the brain. The default mode network controls whether the mind wanders, as well as spontaneous thought and ingenuity. The executive control network, however, tends to engage when a person actively tries to collect and focus their thoughts. A final network is also implicated to be involved – salience, which the brain uses to determine what is the most pressing issue for us to focus on at any given time.
The researchers found distinct modes of connectivity between three key networks in the brain
Previously it has been noted that the executive control and default mode networks tend to behave antagonistically and effectively dampen each others’ responses. The revelations from this study, on the other hand, indicate that in very creative people it is possible for both of these networks to be at higher levels of activity simultaneously. This was worked out in essence by testing noted creatives such as artists and musicians to more ‘normal’ candidates in American, Austrian and Chinese groups, with the same findings between sets.
Now understandably you may be asking “so what?” – why is this of any value to anybody whatsoever? These findings are important because it may be possible to figure out how we can transfer this unity of brain networks across to other domains, such as spatial or logical reasoning. Furthermore, can this influence the way we learn to do new tasks, or indeed educate children? Crucially, the scans also indicate a certain ‘flexibility of thought’ that may allow people to solve problems in new, unconventional ways.
It may be possible to figure out how we can transfer this unity of brain networks across to other domains
One of the main study authors, Dr Roger Beaty – a fellow in Psychology at Harvard, points out that this research may finally dispel the myth that people are either left or right-brained. He says that the synchronisation between networks across both hemispheres of the brain is what’s important and could be what is allowing these people to come up with more ideas. The team was also careful to note that this study cannot comment on whether creativity is an inherent trait people are born with, or whether it is something that can be trained and enhanced over time.