How did you come up with that? Good ideas and creativity, in a nutshell.

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The creative process, first hinted at by Wallas (1926), consists of four stages: preparation, incubation (as talked about in the video), illumination, and verification. The first step could be found in normal non-creative thinking. The second step lacked coherent theories concerning its construct. Illumination and verification could occur between the linked minds, as suggested in the video, but the possible brain process involved in such activities is poorly understood by neuroscientists. While it is possible that interconnected minds could lead to creativity, the 'how' of this process needs to be understood before creativity can be claimed - or properly employed.

There's a new literature review (Dietrich & Kanso, 2010) examining divergent thinking, artistic creativity, and insight, as tested by EEG, ERP and neuroimaging studies. While I hardly think something as complex and context-based as creativity could be mapped out by picturing brain activities in a confined setting, the conclusions regarding these studies are nevertheless noteworthy.

Divergent thinking - or, the ability to come up with as many solutions as possible - does not seem to be a domain of either left or right brain hemisphere alone (laterality effect), as previously postulated. The majority of studies did not find activation from specific brain areas (other than the expected prefrontal cortex), even though some have pointed to the cerebellum, striatum, and hippocampus. Findings were scattered and dependent on the tasks used to test creativity, so perhaps these tests were too crude to measure the concept properly.

As for artistic creativity, the authors suggested that there were different types that required either an engagement or disengagement of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, creativity can come with trying really hard to think; it can also come when you just 'let go' of metacognitive thinking (or over-thinking) and use your intuition. This must be what the zen masters in all those Kung-fu or Wuxian films talked about, letting yourself be the flow of water and you're going to solve the problems that plague you the most (e.g., Drunken Master, 1978).

Studies on insight yielded much more consistent results. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, see figure above) was particularly activated by insight problems. It was found to be important in getting you 'unstuck' from the wrong solution space. In addition, the superior temporal gyrus (STG, see figure below) apparently played a role in solving insight problems that involved verbal associations. These activities aside, there was no definite brain hemisphere being solely responsible for insight, as it was found by imaging studies.

Because of the lack of cohesive findings with regards to the localization of creativity, the authors also dismissed the notion that creativity could be linked to psychological disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, autism) or altered state of consciousness (e.g., meditation). That is not to say there could not be subsets of creativity with viable links to these different mental states; rather, the authors argued that the notion of 'creativity' would have to be redefined in a way that allows for the multifacet components of 'creativity' to be captured. Sometimes divergent thinking may be linked to creative solutions, and sometimes defocused attention brings about an aha moment.

If there is one thing social networking and the internet can help with, it's the opportunity to come across ideas that could stimulate your own. Some studies suggested a need for suppressing stereotypical responses in order for creativity to occur, and the sprouting of various responses could help with such processes. However, the existing data on creativity would caution and contest the idea that more information would lead to creativity. It would certainly depend on what the consumers do with such information, and even so, it's difficult to predict if their engagement or disengagement of their network would lead to creativity. Coming up with different ways to insert a sad Keanu in every picture may not indicate a generalized creative current that would help with solving a company's third quarter crisis. It may help with gaining greater notoriety or expanding one's network, and perhaps that's an aspect of creativity put to good social use for now.

Dietrich, A., & Kanso, R. (2010). A review of EEG, ERG, and neuroimaging studies of creativity and insight. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 822-848.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York, NY: Harcort Brace and World.

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1 Response to How did you come up with that? Good ideas and creativity, in a nutshell.

December 1, 2010 at 7:23 PM

Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.


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