Creativity – why does it come naturally for some, but others struggle to use their imagination? What are the best ways to encourage creativity and how do you be more creative? These are just some of the questions I’ve got about creativity, and I’d love to know how to beat the creative block. Read more to see what I found out..
When thinking about why some people are more creative than others, it might be useful to start looking at which parts of the brain are involved in creative thinking. One study involved participants with lesions in different parts of their brain, and investigated their ability to generate original ideas (Shamay-Tsoory et al, 2011). They compared their performance in a creative thinking test which involved generating novel images, and thinking of new uses for objects. Researchers found that having a lesion in the right medial prefrontal cortex (see below) had impaired creative thinking, whilst participants who had a lesion in the left medial prefrontal cortex actually had enhanced creative ability. The researchers hypothesised that this result could be explained by language lateralisation – language is controlled by the left side of the brain, and could normally interfere with the creative process. Therefore, when this part of the brain is damaged, our creativity improves.
Another recent study has examined why some people are more creative than others (Beaty et al, 2018). They used fMRI imaging to scan the brains of participants whilst they took part in a creative problem solving task, and identified a network of structures which was used for generating creative ideas. The researchers then compared the strength of the connections between these areas in people who had low or high creativity scores, and found that the people who had the strongest connections between different brain structures came up with better ideas during the task.
However looking at brain structure isn’t enough, and would be oversimplifying the impact of our physical and social environments on our ability to be creative (Damasio, 2001). Damasio argued that in order to be creative, we must meet the following criteria:
- the motivation to create
- the courage to face scrutiny and criticism
- extensive experience and expertise (e.g. to know what has been done before, what is original)
- insight into your own mind, and the minds of others
- the ability to generate and recall a variety of images
- a large working memory capacity, to be able to hold these images in mind at the same time
- the ability to make decisions, to choose which ideas to keep and which to discard
When trying to improve our creative performance, one study has examined the role of seeing examples in helping creativity and generating novel ideas (Kulkarni et al, 2012). Participants in a creativity task were either shown examples early, late, or repeatedly in the process, and their performance was compared with those who didn’t see any examples. They found that seeing examples anywhere in the creative process reduced originality, and that participants who saw examples also produced fewer drawings. The authors hypothesised that this result could be because viewing examples raises the bar of what is an ‘acceptable idea’, so they spent more time refining current ideas as opposed to generating new ones. However, participants who saw examples early in the process were judged to have improved creativity, as measured by number of novel features of drawings and subjective ratings of performance.
Beaty, R.E., Kenett, Y.N., Christensen, A.P., Rosenberg, M.D., Benedek, M., Chen, Q., Fink, A., Qiu, J., Kwapil, T.R., Kane, M.J. and Silvia, P.J., 2018. Robust prediction of individual creative ability from brain functional connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, p.201713532.
Damasio, A.R., 2001. Some notes on brain, imagination and creativity. The origins of creativity, pp.59-68.
Kulkarni, C., Dow, S.P. and Klemmer, S.R., 2014. Early and repeated exposure to examples improves creative work. In Design thinking research (pp. 49-62). Springer International Publishing.
Shamay-Tsoory, S.G., Adler, N., Aharon-Peretz, J., Perry, D. and Mayseless, N., 2011. The origins of originality: the neural bases of creative thinking and originality. Neuropsychologia, 49(2), pp.178-185.