Creative thinking outside-the-box and inside the fMRI
Creativity is a squishy concept most of the time. Saying that something is “so creative” is usually pretty subjective, but it’s almost always valued. People have been trying to figure out how to be more creative, and how to help others be more creative, and some of that desire has led to attempts to measure creative activity in the brain. Those searches have yielded some appropriately ‘outside the box’ clues as to how our brains come up some of their best ideas.
While in an fMRI, test participants were asked to either draw a zig-zag line, or draw a picture of a concept or action, essentially playing Pictionary with themselves. Both tasks would require some motor skills and visual attention, but only the latter task would require the brain to conceptualize and invent something. To researchers’ surprise, a lot of that activity turned out to be in the cerebellum, a part of the brain previously thought to be relegated to repetitive learning plus basic motor control. However, as much of that reputation came from studies of monkey brains, researchers wonder if there’s more happening in a human cerebellum, or if we just didn’t know how to look for a monkey trying to express his thoughts on gluing purple apples together.
The other finding in this study was less surprising. When people starting worrying about their creative performance, that performance declined. Activating brain centers associated with planning and organization correlated with doing worse on the drawing task, supporting the idea that you can’t do something and worry about it at the same time.
Source: Researchers tie unexpected brain structures to creativity — and to stifling it by Bruce Goldman, Stanford Medicine News Center