October 27, 2007
Creative Brains Have Different Resting EEG Patterns

A new study attempts to answer the question of whether people who are creative problem solvers have different brain activity patterns than the less creative.

A new study led by John Kounios, professor of Psychology at Drexel University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University answers these questions by comparing the brain activity of creative and noncreative problem solvers. The study, a published “Article in Press” in the journal Neuropsychologia, reveals a distinct pattern of brain activity, even at rest, in people who tend to solve problems with a sudden creative insight -- an “Aha! Moment” – compared to people who tend to solve problems more methodically.

At the beginning of the study, participants relaxed quietly for seven minutes while their electroencephalograms (EEGs) were recorded to show their brain activity. The participants were not given any task to perform and were told they could think about whatever they wanted to think about. Later, they were asked to solve a series of anagrams – scrambled letters that can be rearranged to form words [MPXAELE = EXAMPLE]. These can be solved by deliberately and methodically trying out different letter combinations, or they can be solved with a sudden insight or “Aha!” in which the solution pops into awareness. After each successful solution, participants indicated in which way the solution had come to them.

The creative types had patterns of resting brain activity that were different from the patterns of brain activity seen in non-creative types.

The participants were then divided into two groups – those who reported solving the problems mostly by sudden insight, and those who reported solving the problems more methodically – and resting-state brain activity for these groups was compared. As predicted, the two groups displayed strikingly different patterns of brain activity during the resting period at the beginning of the experiment – before they knew that they would have to solve problems or even knew what the study was about.

One difference was that the creative solvers exhibited greater activity in several regions of the right hemisphere. Previous research has suggested that the right hemisphere of the brain plays a special role in solving problems with creative insight, likely due to right-hemisphere involvement in the processing of loose or “remote” associations between the elements of a problem, which is understood to be an important component of creative thought. The current study shows that greater right-hemisphere activity occurs even during a “resting” state in those with a tendency to solve problems by creative insight. This finding suggests that even the spontaneous thought of creative individuals, such as in their daydreams, contains more remote associations.

What I want to know: does the creative style of thinking have a genetic cause? If it does then when people start genetically engineering their offspring will they choose the genetic variations that cause creativity more often or less often than it now occurs naturally? In other words, will genetic engineering boost the amount of creative thinking in the world?

Second, creative and methodical solvers exhibited different activity in areas of the brain that process visual information. The pattern of “alpha” and “beta” brainwaves in creative solvers was consistent with diffuse rather than focused visual attention. This may allow creative individuals to broadly sample the environment for experiences that can trigger remote associations to produce an Aha! Moment.

This pattern of diffuse attention reminds me of low latent inhibition. See my post Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?

Update: Are EEG patterns sensitive enough to do much categorization of different kinds of brains? Are EEGs an appropriate tool for the research reported above? Or did they just EEGs because they are far cheaper than more powerful alternatives and their results can't be conclusive without use of various brain scanning technologies?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 October 27 06:23 PM  Brain Creativity

Neurofreak said at October 27, 2007 9:47 PM:

Man, I love your blog. I just want you to know that.

As far as genetic propensity towards creativity... I'm sure it's the same genetics that cause a propensity towards psychosis. (Back to the low latent inhibition thing... for the win).

Matthew said at October 27, 2007 11:06 PM:

What I want to know: does the creative style of thinking have a genetic cause?
Nah, I can decide to use my inutution or decide to go about it methodically. Perhaps some are more succesfull with a certain type of thinking and so that effects their resting EEG.

Dinesh said at February 11, 2011 6:26 PM:

Genetic engineering and the potential of it upsetting the balance mother nature seeks to maintain, worries me. As Newton's law suggests "every action has an equal but opposite reaction" I believe is Mother nature's a way. Is mankind prepared for the consequence of Genetic engineering?

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