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Brain Coach Answers: How Can I Be More Creative? Is Creativity a Part of Brain Fitness?

“Creativity is not just about the creation of an art object, or a piece of music, or a film, or the creation of a scientific project, but also about the creation of social relations and of cultural institutions,” says Antonio Damasio. “People rarely associate these latter areas with creativity, but anytime we produce something new, be it an architectural drawing, classroom curriculum, or a new approach to a business problem, the creative process is at work.”

According to Wikipedia, creativity “is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts.” In her book, The Creative Habit, the choreographer Twyla Tharp writes an excellent guide to fostering the habits that prepare you to be creative. As with all forms of brain exercises, it takes consistent effort, organization, and commitment. Greenman Review summarizes:

Tharp’s basic premise as this: you can’t be creative if you work without structure. This structure can take many forms. One is the structure of daily routines or rituals. Tharp starts her day, every day, at 5:30 a.m. with a cab ride to the gym where she works out for two hours. Sometimes structure involves paring away unnecessary distractions. Tharp talks about Henry David Thoreau going to live alone at Walden Pond as a way of allowing his inner voice to be heard more clearly, and mentions that she often avoids watching films while she is in the middle of a project. Often structure takes the form of a record of the steps you took to get from the beginning to the end of a project. Tharp uses heavy cardboard file boxes to hold various artifacts that relate to each of her creative projects. She labels them and stores them on industrial shelving in her work area. Other people might use file folders or notebooks or electronic files to store these records.

Nancy Andreasen is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Iowa. Based on her research using positron-emission tomography (PET) scans of people’s brains during creative tasks, she suggests that creativity arises largely from the “association cortex”—parts of the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes that integrate sensory and other information. In her book, The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, she lists cultural factors that have spurred creative thought in the past: intellectual freedom, open competition, a critical mass of creative people, the presence of mentors and patrons, and some degree of economic prosperity. She also suggests that to boost creativity, adults practice making close observations of a chosen item or imagining oneself to be someplace or someone else. Her recommendations for children include: less television, more music, and more outdoor activity.

Alice Flaherty from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School presents a three-factor model of idea generation and creative drive, focusing on interactions between the temporal lobes, frontal lobes, and limbic system. Temporal lobe changes, as in hypergraphia, often increase the quantity of idea generation, sometimes at the expense of quality. On the other hand, frontal lobe deficits may decrease idea generation, in part because of rigid judgments about an idea’s worth. The balance between frontal quality and temporal quantity is mediated by interconnectivity within each cortical area that mutually inhibits the other area. Dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway influences novelty seeking behavior, creative drive, and goal-directed behavior. Although creative drive and actual skill are neither the same thing nor use the same brain anatomy, creative drive does correlate better with successful creative output than actual skill does. Traditional neuroscientific models of creativity, such as the left brain – right brain hemispheric model, emphasize skills primarily, and stress art and musical skill at the expense of language and mathematics. This three-factor model proposed by Flaherty opens up to research findings in a broad range of normal and pathological states.

Further Links
Mind/Body, Emotions, and Decision-Making
Social Intelligence and Mirror Neurons
Social Intelligence and the Frontal Lobes
An Ape Can Do This. Can We Not?
“Use It or Lose It” : What is “It”?
The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind by Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg
Brain Exercise at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

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