2010 April 05 Monday
Shy And Introverted Process The World Differently

Maybe shyness and neuroticism are the result of a cognitive difference in how people process stimuli.

People who are shy or introverted may actually process their world differently than others, leading to differences in how they respond to stimuli, according to Stony Brook researchers and collaborators in China.

About twenty percent of people are born with this “highly sensitive” trait, which may also manifest itself as inhibitedness, or even neuroticism. The trait can be seen in some children who are “slow to warm up” in a situation but eventually join in, need little punishment, cry easily, ask unusual questions or have especially deep thoughts.

Are you more bothered by noise and crowds? Do you warm up to situations slowly?

Stony Brook researchers Elaine and Arthur Aron had already found that those with a highly sensitive temperament are, compared to others, more bothered by noise and crowds, more affected by caffeine, and more easily startled. That is, the trait is about sensitivity. Further, they proposed that this is all part of a “sensory processing sensitivity.” In other words, the simple sensory sensitivity to noise, pain, or caffeine is a side effect of an inborn preference to pay more attention to experiences.

So it isn't simply higher sensitivity to stimuli. It is the tendency to pay more attention to stimuli and to spend more time thinking about stimuli that makes people more likely ot by shy or neurotic?

Do you take longer to make decisions? Are you more conscientious? Do you need more time alone to think about things?

Hints of this processing sensitivity were found in the observation that, compared to the majority of people, the sensitive ones among us tend to prefer to take longer to make decisions, are more conscientious, need more time to themselves in order to reflect, and are more easily bored with small talk. However, the theory that what created the difference was processing rather than mere sensitivity needed to be validated.

Brain scans showed more activity in areas for processing visual input in people who were tested as more sensitive.

The investigators had 16 participants compare a photograph of a visual scene with a preceding scene, and asked them to indicate with a button press whether or not the scene had changed. Scenes differed in whether the changes were obvious or subtle, and in how quickly they were presented. Sensitive persons looked at the scenes that had the subtle differences for a longer time than did non-sensitive persons, and showed significantly greater activation in brain areas involved in associating visual input with other input to the brain and with visual attention (i.e., right claustrum; left occipito-temporal; bilateral temporal, medial, and posterior parietal regions). These areas are not simply used for vision itself, but for a deeper processing of input.

I would like to know whether, adjusted for IQ, whether the sensitives are more productive as scientists, engineers, or other types of knowledge workers. Are there types of jobs they are well suited for given their cognitive tendencies?

By Randall Parker    2010 April 05 12:16 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (33)
2007 October 27 Saturday
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?

By Randall Parker    2007 October 27 06:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 November 10 Thursday
Children Of Bipolar Parents More Creative

Creative and mentally ill parents have creative and mentally ill children.

STANFORD, Calif. – Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown for the first time that a sample of children who either have or are at high risk for bipolar disorder score higher on a creativity index than healthy children. The findings add to existing evidence that a link exists between mood disorders and creativity.

The small study, published in the November issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research, compared creativity test scores of children of healthy parents with the scores of children of bipolar parents. Children with the bipolar parents—even those who were not bipolar themselves—scored higher than the healthy children.

“I think it’s fascinating,” said Kiki Chang, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-author of the paper. “There is a reason that many people who have bipolar disorder become very successful, and these findings address the positive aspects of having this illness.”

Obviously genetics plays an important role in creativity, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

Artists have higher rates of mental illness.

Many scientists believe that a relationship exists between creativity and bipolar disorder, which was formerly called manic-depressive illness and is marked by dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Numerous studies have examined this link; several have shown that artists and writers may have two to three times more incidences of psychosis, mood disorders or suicide when compared with people in less creative professions.

Terence Ketter, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a study co-author, said he became interested in the link between mental illness and creativity after noticing that patients who came through the bipolar clinic, despite having problems, were extraordinarily bright, motivated people who “tended to lead interesting lives.” He began a scholarly pursuit of this link and in 2002 published a study that showed healthy artists were more similar in personality to individuals with bipolar disorder (the majority of whom were on medication) than to healthy people in the general population.

Some people with higher intellectual capabilities might be able to handle their bipolar and ADHD and still manage to be productive. But less bright people are probably more likely to be overwhelmed by their mental illness and unable to harness their creativity for productive purposes. But do the genetic variations that contribute to causing bipolar also raise IQ?

People who use their negative emotions to initiate searches for solutions to problems tend to be more creative.

Some researchers believe that bipolar disorder or mania, a defining symptom of the disease, causes creative activity. Ketter said he believes that bipolar patients’ creativity stems from their mobilizing energy that results from negative emotion to initiate some sort of solution to their problems. “In this case, discontent is the mother of invention,” he said.

The children of parents with bipolar disorder were themselves either bipolar or had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

During the study, the researchers looked at creative characteristics in 40 bipolar patients and 40 offspring, comparing them with 18 healthy adults and 18 healthy offspring. The children in the study ranged in age from 10 to 18. Half of the children of bipolar patients also had bipolar disorder; the other half had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, which appears to be an early sign of bipolar disorder in offspring of parents with the condition. The majority of participants with bipolar or ADHD were on medication.

The researchers included children with ADHD so they could study creativity before the onset of full bipolar disorder. “We wanted to see whether having a manic episode is necessary for this sort of creativity,” said Chang, who also directs the Pediatric Bipolar Disorders Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Study participants were given psychiatric evaluations and then completed the Barron-Welsh Art Scale, or BWAS, a test that seeks to provide an objective measure of creativity. The scoring is based on “like” and “dislike” responses to figures of varying complexity and symmetry; past studies suggest that creative people tend to dislike the simple and symmetric symbols.

The researchers found that the bipolar parents had 120 percent higher BWAS “dislike” scores than the healthy parents. The children with bipolar and the children with ADHD had, respectively, 107 and 91 percent higher BWAS dislike scores than the healthy children.

“The results of this study support an association between bipolar disease and creativity and contribute to a better understanding of possible mechanisms of transmission of creativity in families with genetic susceptibility for bipolar disease,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

On the bright side, the bipolar mania stage is not needed to cause creativity. The presence of ADHD alone boosts creativity. The problem, though, is that people with ADHD might be full of ideas. But many lack the patience needed to translate their ideas into implementations. If you can't stand to focus long enough to write down the melody or story line you see in your head or to draw a mechanical design that you've thought of your creativity doesn't do you or the world much good.

The researchers had hypothesized that the scores of children with ADHD would differ significantly from the scores of bipolar children so they were surprised when the scores did not. Chang said this indicates that mania is not what is fueling the creativity. “The kids with ADHD who hadn’t been manic yet still had very high levels of creativity,” he said.

Being mentally ill for a longer time erodes the BWAS dislike score. Mentally ill people burn out and cease to be creative.

The researchers also found a link between the length of a bipolar child’s illness and creativity: the longer a child was sick or manic, the lower the BWAS dislike score. It makes sense, Chang said, that this illness could, over time, erode one’s creativity. “After awhile you aren’t able to function and you can’t access your creativity,” he explained.

We all get less creative with age.

BWAS dislike scores tend to decrease with age even in healthy individuals, so more research is needed, Ketter said. Further studies are also needed to assess the role of genetic and environmental factors in creativity and bipolar, he added. The team plans to next examine whether the degree of creativity in parents correlates with the degree of creativity in their children.

If the mental illness eventually leads to declining creatvitiy by causeing neuronal cell death then perhaps the development of treatments based on Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will provide ways to preserve neurons and creativity as the years and decades go by.

Maybe one cause of hyperactivity is a low threshold for noticing external stimuli. See my previous post "Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?"

By Randall Parker    2005 November 10 08:49 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 September 11 Sunday
Brain Scans Show Why Schizotypal Personalities More Creative

Schizotypal personalities are more creative.

New research on individuals with schizotypal personalities – people characterized by odd behavior and language but who are not psychotic or schizophrenic – offers the first neurological evidence that they are more creative than either normal or fully schizophrenic individuals, and rely more heavily on the right sides of their brains than the general population to access their creativity.

The work by Vanderbilt psychologists Brad Folley and Sohee Park was published online last week by the journal Schizophrenia Research.

"The idea that schizotypes have enhanced creativity has been out there for a long time but no one has investigated the behavioral manifestations and their neural correlates experimentally," Folley says. "Our paper is unique because we investigated the creative process experimentally and we also looked at the blood flow in the brain while research subjects were undergoing creative tasks."

Folley and Park conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking processes of schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal control subjects. In the first experiment, the researchers showed research subjects a variety of household objects and asked them to make up new functions for them. The results showed that the schizotypes were better able to creatively suggest new uses for the objects, while the schizophrenics and average subjects performed similarly to one another.

"Thought processes for individuals with schizophrenia are often very disorganized, almost to the point where they can’t really be creative because they cannot get all of their thoughts coherent enough to do that," Folley observes. "Schizotypes, on the other hand, are free from the severe, debilitating symptoms surrounding schizophrenia and also have an enhanced creative ability."

So then is creativity just the result of unusual brain anatomy?

Brain scans showed that schizotypes use more of their right hemispheres for creative work than do normal or schizophrenic people.

In the second experiment, the three groups again were asked to identify new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain scanning techniques called near-infrared optical spectroscopy. The brain scans showed that all groups used both brain hemispheres for creative tasks, but that the activation of the right hemispheres of the schizotypes was dramatically greater than that of the schizophrenic and average subjects, suggesting a positive benefit of schizotypy.

"In the scientific community, the popular idea that creativity exists in the right side of the brain is thought to be ridiculous, because you need both hemispheres of your brain to make novel associations and to perform other creative tasks," Folley says. "We found that all three groups, schizotypes, schizophrenics and normal controls, did use both hemispheres when performing creative tasks. But the brain scans of the schizotypes showed a hugely increased activation of the right hemisphere compared to the schizophrenics and the normal controls."

Suppose the schizotypes have some genetic component to how their brains work. Once genetic engineering of offspring becomes possible or even once detailed genetic testing of fertilized eggs becomes possible will future parents make choices that decrease the fraction of the population that have brain wiring that make them especially creative?

Or, more optimistically, will genetic variations be found that increase creativity while lowering risk of mental disorders?

Also see my previous posts "Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?" and "Brain Scans Show Working Memory, Moments Of Insight".

By Randall Parker    2005 September 11 03:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2004 April 14 Wednesday
Brain Scans Show Working Memory, Moments Of Insight

Functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans show the location of activity in the brain of visual short-term working memory.

The amount of information we can remember from a visual scene is extremely limited and the source of that limit may lie in the posterior parietal cortex, a region of the brain involved in visual short-term memory, Vanderbilt psychologist René Marois and graduate student J. Jay Todd have found. Their results were published in the April 15 edition of Nature.

"Visual short-term memory is a key component of many perceptual and cognitive functions and is supported by a broad neural network, but it has a very limited storage capacity," Marois said. "Though we have the impression we are taking in a great deal of information from a visual scene, we are actually very poor at describing its contents in detail once it is gone from our sight."

Previous findings have determined that an extensive network of brain regions supports visual short-term memory. In their study, Todd and Marois showed that the severely limited storage capacity of visual short-term memory is primarily associated with just one of these regions, the posterior parietal cortex.

Todd and Marois used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique that reveals the brain regions active in a given mental task by registering changes in blood flow and oxygenation in these regions, to identify where the capacity limit of visual short-term memory occurs.

The brains of research participants were scanned with fMRI while they were shown scenes containing one to eight colored objects. After a delay of just over a second, the subjects were queried about the scene they had just viewed.

While the subjects were good at remembering all of the objects in scenes containing four or fewer objects, they frequently made mistakes describing displays containing a larger number of objects, indicating that the storage capacity of visual short-term memory is about four.

The fMRI results revealed that activity in the posterior parietal cortex strongly correlated with the number of objects the subjects were able to remember. The magnitude of the neural response in this brain area increased with the number of objects viewed up to about four and leveled off after that, even when additional objects were presented.

A different team led by Edward Vogel of the University of Oregon at Eugene were able to use signals measured by electrodes attached to the scalp to precisely measure the size of each person's visual working memory.

A large increase in the subject's brain activity on the four-dot test indicated that his or her memory capacity had not been pushed to its limit. No increase in electrical activity indicated that his or her working memory had topped out on the two-dot test. By graphing these responses, the team worked out the exact size of each subject's working memory.

It is likely that the measured differences in visual memory have some genetic basis. With that in mind it would be interesting to use Vogel's technique to compare measured visual working memory with BDNF gene variations that affect visual and episodic memory capabilities.

Another team at Northwestern University and Drexel University has used fMRI to demonstrate that the problem solving mechanism that produces the "Eureka!" moment of discovering an answer works by a different mental mechanism than what is used to solve problems by more conventional methods.

Mark Jung-Beeman and colleagues mapped both the location and electrical signature of neural activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the electroencephalogram (EEG). Neural activity was mapped with fMRI while the participants were given word problems--which can be solved quickly with or without insight, and evoke a distinct Aha! moment about half the time they're solved. Subjects pressed a button to indicate whether they had solved the problem using insight, which they had been told leads to an Aha! experience characterized by suddenness and obviousness.

While several regions in the cerebral cortex showed about the same heightened activity for both insight and noninsight-derived solutions, only an area known as the anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus (aSTG) in the right hemisphere (RH) showed a robust insight effect. The researchers also found that 0.3 seconds before the subjects indicated solutions achieved through insight, there was a burst of neural activity of one particular type: high-frequency (gamma band) activity that is often thought to reflect complex cognitive processing. This activity was also mapped to the aSTG of the RH, providing compelling convergence across experiments and methods.

Problem-solving involves a complex network of brain regions to encode, retrieve, and evaluate information, but these results show that solving verbal problems with insight requires at least one additional component. Further, the fact that the effect occurred in RH aSTG suggests what that process may be: integration of distantly related information. Distinct neural processes, the authors conclude, underlie the sudden flash of insight that allows people to "see connections that previously eluded them."

Some problems are easier to solve because they require the use of straightforward procedures which has been trained to use. For example, if one solves a math problem with a known method of solution then there is no "Eureka!" moment when one calculates the answer. Whereas when a solution found by noticing previously unobserved connections there is more a sense of revelation. It is this latter case that involves a burst of activity in a part of the brain called the anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus (aSTG).

Mark Jung-Beeman says these results demonstrate that "Eureka!" moments are different than moments when problems are solved with conventional methods.

“For thousands of years, people have said that insight feels different from more straightforward problem-solving,” he said.

“We believe this is the first research showing that distinct computational and neural mechanisms lead to these breakthrough moments.”

The paper by Mark Jung-Beeman et. al. is available online here: Neural Activity When People Solve Verbal Problems with Insight.

It would be interesting to know whether people who are considered more creative in their fields have a bigger anterior Superior Temporal Gyrus (aSTG). Every time a part of the brain is discovered as key for some function the obvious question that arises is just how valuable would it be to enhance that part of the brain. The aSTG for reaching insights and the posterior parietal cortex for working short-term visual memory both strike me as useful areas to enhance to make one better at scientific and engineering work.

On the subject of other brain functions that it would be great to enhance see my post Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?

By Randall Parker    2004 April 14 01:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 October 05 Sunday
Low Latent Inhibition Plus High Intelligence Leads To High Creativity?

Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto and colleages at Harvard University have found that decreased latent inhibition of environmental stimuli appears to correlate with greater creativity among people with high IQ. (same press release available here and here)

The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment," says co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson. "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities."

Previously, scientists have associated failure to screen out stimuli with psychosis. However, Peterson and his co-researchers - lead author and psychology lecturer Shelley Carson of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard PhD candidate Daniel Higgins - hypothesized that it might also contribute to original thinking, especially when combined with high IQ. They administered tests of latent inhibition to Harvard undergraduates. Those classified as eminent creative achievers - participants under age 21 who reported unusually high scores in a single area of creative achievement - were seven times more likely to have low latent inhibition scores.

The authors hypothesize that latent inhibition may be positive when combined with high intelligence and good working memory - the capacity to think about many things at once - but negative otherwise. Peterson states: "If you are open to new information, new ideas, you better be able to intelligently and carefully edit and choose. If you have 50 ideas, only two or three are likely to be good. You have to be able to discriminate or you'll get swamped."

"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."

A less able mind has a greater need to be able to filter out and ignore stimuli. A less intelligent person with a low level of latent inhibition for filtering out familiar stimuli may well sink into mental illness as a result. But a smarter mind can handle the effects of taking note of a larger number of stimuli and even find interesting and useful patterns by continually processing a larger quantity of familiar information.

You can find the original paper here: Decreased Latent Inhibition Is Associated With Increased Creative Achievement in High-Functioning Individuals (PDF format)

The central idea underlying our research program is therefore that individuals characterized by increased plasticity (extraversion and openness)retain higher post-exposure access to the range of complex possibilities laying dormant in so-called ‘‘familiar ’’environments.This heightened access is the subjective concomitant of decreased latent inhibition,which allows the plastic person increased incentive-reward-tagged appreciation for hidden or latent information (Peterson,1999). Such decreases in LI may have pathological consequences,as in the case of schizophrenia or its associated conditions (perhaps in individuals whose higher-order cognitive processes are also impaired,and who thus become involuntarily ‘‘flooded ’’by an excess of a ffectively tagged infor- mation),or may constitute a precondition for creative thinking (in individuals who have the cognitive resources to ‘‘edit ’’or otherwise constrain (Stokes,2001)their broader range of mean- ingful experience).

Note from the text of the full paper that stress causes the release of the hormone corticosterone which lowers latent inhibition. In a nutshell, when an organism runs into problems that cause stress the resulting release of stress hormones causes the mind to shift into a state where it will examine factors in the environment that it normally ignores. This allows the organism to look for solutions to the stress-causing problem that would be ignored in normal and less stressed circumstances.

So perhaps we could hypothesize something like this:under stressful conditions,or in person-ality configurations characterized by increased novelty-sensitivity,approach behavior,and DA activity, decreased LI is associated with increased permeability and flexibility of functional cog- nitive and perceptual category [see Barsalou (1983)for a discussion of such categories ].Imagine a situation where current plans are not producing desired outcomes —a situation where current categories of perception and cognition are in error, from the pragmatic perspective. Something anomalous or novel emerges as a consequence (Peterson,1999), and drives exploratory behavior. Stress or trait-dependent decreased LI, under such circumstances, could produce increased signal (as well as noise), with regards to the erroneous pattern of behavior and the anomaly that it produced. This might offer the organism, currently enmeshed in the consequences of mistaken presuppositions, the possibility of gathering new information, where nothing but categorical certainty once existed. Decreased LI might therefore be regarded as advantageous, in that it allows for the perception of more unlikely, radical and numerous options for reconsideration, but disadvantageous in that the stressed or approach-oriented person risks ‘‘drowning in possibility,’’ to use Kierkegaard ’s phrase.

One can easily see how this response could have been selected for evolutionarily. At the same time, one can also see how chronic stress could lead a person to fall into a state of confusion as a sustained large flood of stimuli could overwhelm the brain by giving it too much to think about and make a person unable to clearly see solutions that will relieve the feeling of stress.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 05 04:54 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (526)
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