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

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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