Creativity vies with language in brain
From the page: “GREAT ideas can feel like they come out of nowhere. Now we’re a step closer to understanding where they do originate. The thinking is that areas for language and creativity compete in the brain, which might explain why some people with brain damage suddenly become artistic.
Originality – or the ability to think up novel ideas that don’t occur to many other people – is a key aspect of creativity. But researchers are struggling to pin down where the gift comes from.
“We were amazed by the conflicting results in the literature,” says Simone Shamay-Tsoory, from the University of Haifa, Israel. To better pinpoint the areas involved in creative thinking, Simone Shamay-Tsoory, and her team compared 40 people with damage to one of three distinct areas in the brain, and a group without any damage.
As well as having their brains scanned, the two groups were shown 30 identical circles on a piece of paper and given 5 minutes to draw as many different pictures of meaningful objects as they could, each of which had to include at least one circle.
The volunteers were scored on their total number of responses and also on the number of statistically rare responses, deduced from earlier experiments on healthy volunteers. The test measures “divergent thinking” – the ability to generate new ideas that give different solutions to a particular problem.
Although they were unable to check volunteers’ levels of creativity before brain damage, the results suggest that levels of originality directly relate to where in the brain the damage has happened. Those who scored significantly higher than healthy volunteers in originality had more damage to the left side of the brain, in areas responsible for processing language. Those with the lowest scores tended to have more damage to the right side of the brain, in an area involved in planning and decision-making (Neuropsychologia, in press).
Shamay-Tsoory says that while creativity is likely generated in the right side of the brain it may be suppressed by language processing on the left. “[Language] regions may compete with the right hemisphere’s ability to produce creative ideas,” she says. This would explain why, when these language areas are damaged, originality seems to increase.
Rex Jung from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says this is the first time brain injuries have been used to look at the origins of creativity. However, “creativity is not one thing”, says Arne Dietrich, at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, “and is also highly distributed in the brain.” He believes pinning creativity to very specific areas is unrealistic.
Shamay-Tsoory is now planning to investigate whether it might be possible to boost creativity in healthy volunteers by inhibiting language areas.”