A new study by Dr. Naama Mayseless and Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory from the Department of Psychology at the University of Haifa attempted to crack the connection between brain activity and creativity. The results shed a new, perhaps unexpected light, on our ability to think outside the box.
Developing an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain: the associative – “spontaneous” – network alongside the more normative – “conservative” – network; this according to new research conducted at the University of Haifa.
The researchers maintain that “creative thinking apparently requires ‘checks and balances’.” The new research was conducted as part of the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Naama Mayseless, and was supervised by Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory from the Department of Psychology at the University of Haifa in collaboration with Dr. Ayelet Eran from the Rambam Medical Center.
According to the researchers, creativity is our ability to think in new and original ways to solve problems. But not every original solution is considered a creative one. If the idea is not fully applicable it is not considered creative, but simply one which is unreasonable.
The researchers hypothesized that for a creative idea to be produced, the brain must activate a number of different – and perhaps even contradictory – networks. In the first part of the research, respondents were give half a minute to come up with a new, original and unexpected idea for the use of different objects. Answers which were provided infrequently received a high score for originality, while those given frequently received a low score. In the second part, respondents were asked to give, within half a minute, their best characteristic (and accepted) description of the objects. During the tests, all subjects were scanned using an FMRI device to examine their brain activity while providing the answer.
The researchers found increased brain activity in an “associative” region among participants whose originality was high. This region, which includes the anterior medial brain areas, mainly works in the background when a person is not concentrating, similar to daydreaming.
But the researchers found that this region did not operate alone when an original answer was given. For the answer to be original, an additional region worked in collaboration with the associative region – the administrative control region. A more “conservative” region related to social norms and rules. The researchers also found that the stronger the connection, i.e., the better these regions work together in parallel – the greater the level of originality of the answer.
“On the one hand, there is surely a need for a region that tosses out innovative ideas, but on the other hand there is also the need for one that will know to evaluate how applicable and reasonable these ideas are. The ability of the brain to operate these two regions in parallel is what results in creativity. It is possible that the most sublime creations of humanity were produced by people who had an especially strong connection between the two regions,” the researchers concluded.