Everybody is creative in their own way: one may utilize creative thinking to make an acceptable meal out of their very few supplies; another may display creativity in planning a fun outing with friends; and another may demonstrate their creative abilities in their drawings or writing. These tasks and those of the like vary in degree of creativity and are now divided into two categories by researchers: “little-c” creativity and “Big-C” creativity. The former two examples would fall in the “little-c” range, while the latter fits into the “Big-C” group.

While researchers are clearly making headway in better understanding creativity, one question goes unanswered: What makes some people more creative than others? In a new study, Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at Harvard University, Roger Beaty and his colleagues explore a possible explanation: a connection between three different brain networks. According to these researchers, the creative brain just might be “wired” differently.

The research team recruited 163 participants who underwent fMRI scans while completing a test of “divergent thinking,” otherwise known as the alternate uses task—this asks individuals to think of new and unusual uses for certain objects and is designed to asses one’s ability to deviate from the norm. For instance, researchers showed participants various objects, such as a gum wrapper or a sock, and asked them to come up with creative ways to use them. Some did so easily—one participant suggested using a sock as a water filtration system—while others failed to think outside the box.

Beaty’s team made an important discovery: those who performed better on this task tended to report having more creative hobbies, which lines up with previous research that shows the alternate uses tasks measures general creative thinking ability. Furthermore, the fMRI’s allowed researchers to measure functional connectivity between a participant’s brain regions and, in turn, better understand possible creative networks.

The researchers first ranked the participants’ ideas in terms of originality—common uses received lower scores, while uncommon (or creative) uses received higher scores. They then correlated each subject’s score with possible brain connections and worked to remove connections that didn’t correspond with creativity scores, according to their analysis. What remained were a set of connections significant to the generation of original and creative ideas: a “high-creative” network.

After defining the high-creative network, the team wondered how an individual with stronger connections would score on the aforementioned tasks. So, they “measured the strength of a person’s connections in this network, and then used predictive modeling to test whether [they] could estimate a person’s creativity score,” according to Beaty. The researchers found that their predictions correlated significantly with the participants’ actual scores—they successfully estimated how creative an individual’s ideas would be by first considering how strong their connections were in this network. And overall, those with stronger connections came up with more original ideas.

The brain regions that proved to make up the high-creative network belonged to three brain systems: the default, the executive control, and the salience networks. The default network is activated when one engages in spontaneous thinking, such as mind-wandering or daydreaming; the executive control network helps one focus or control their thought process; and the salience network allows one to switch back and forth between the previous two.

Beaty says that interestingly enough, the aforementioned networks aren’t typically activated at once—which suggests that creative individuals possess a greater ability to co-activate differing brain networks. These findings correspond with recent fMRI studies of professional artists, but future research is needed to determine whether these creative networks are “malleable” or “relatively fixed”—can one work to strengthen these connections or are they unchanging?

Roger Beaty. (2018, January 15). New study reveals why some people are more creative than others. The Conversation. Retrieved on January 17, 2018 from https://theconversation.com/new-study-reveals-why-some-people-are-more-creative-than-others-90065