“People who can think creatively and flexibly frequently have the best outcomes,” according to Stanford brain researcher Allan Reiss. But thinking too much about how to be creative? Now that might just hold up the entire creative process.
In new research published in Scientific Reports, Reiss and his colleagues were surprised to find that our abilities to create are tied to the cerebellum. The region in the base of the brain also is responsible for movement, memory, and coordination.
But when the ‘executive center’ of the brain’s prefrontal cortex was engaged – the area that helps us plan and organize – creative activity dropped off.
As researcher and the study’s co-author Manish Saggar says: “The more you think about it, the more you mess it up.”
But how can you access your more creative attributes without overthinking the process?
Of course, that’s the question I’ve been trying to answer all day. While my prefrontal cortex was active scheduling tasks and compiling research, the words that I needed for my own creative expression seemed to take a hike. So, I did too, quite literally.
While brain researchers figure out what’s going on in the cerebellum that causes neurological function to coordinate our creative expression, psychologists have spent decades trying to understand how we can ignite creativity in our everyday lives.
In a 2014 study, researchers found that walking can help. Walking promotes divergent thinking, which helps people access a variety of different ideas about any one topic. In a short time, divergent thinking prompts multiple solutions to any one problem.
Divergent thinking usually is a free-flowing process. It inspires innovative possibilities, sometimes through brainstorming or mind-mapping methods, that can later be evaluated and analyzed for application. It turns out that a simple walk around the block can dramatically improve this creative thought process.
Or you could just read the phone book. Researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman found that those who take on a passive, boring task – such as copying numbers out of a phone book – are more creative problem -solvers. Boring tasks allow more opportunity for daydreaming. That can inspire creative expression.
Daydreaming also can inspire a good mood. That can be another creativity booster.
“If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you do that,” says researcher Ruby Nadler in the study published in Psychological Science
Researchers manipulated study participants’ moods by playing music and video clips. Then, participants were asked to recognize a pattern – a process that forces innovative thinking. Those who were happier did a better job of completing the challenge than those who were feeling sad or neutral.
Saggar, M., Quintin, E., Kienitz, E., Bott, N.Tl., Sun, Z., Hong W., Chien, Y., … Reiss, A.L. (2015). Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. Scientific Reports: 5, Article number: 10894.
Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D.L. (2014). Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 40, (4) 1142–1152.
Mann, S. and Cadmana, R. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Creativity Research Journal 26(2), 165-173.
Nadler, R.T., Rabi, R., & Minda, J.P. (2010). Better Mood and Better Performance: Learning Rule Described Categories Is Enhanced by Positive Mood. Psychological Science 21: 1770-1776, doi: 10.1177/0956797610387441
Creative concept image available from Shutterstock