The Real Neuroscience of Creativity


So yea, you know how the left brain is really realistic, analytical, practical, organized, and logical, and the right brain is so darn creative, passionate, sensual, tasteful, colorful, vivid, and poetic?


Just no.

Stop it.


Thoughtful cognitive neuroscientists such as Rex JungDarya Zabelina, Andreas Fink,John KouniosMark BeemanKalina ChristoffOshin VartanianJeremy Gray, Hikaru Takeuchi and others are on the forefront of investigating what actually happens in the brain during the creative process. And their findings are overturning conventional notions surrounding the neuroscience of creativity.

Written By: Scott Barry Kaufman
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  1. The ‘left-brain/right’brain’ dichotomy always sounded suspect to me. Like the division of perception into ‘female intuition/male logic,’ it’s just too great a simplification. But people love to identify themselves with some thing or other, so I’m always hearing “Oh, I’m a right-brained person, so I….” etc. That’s only a small notch above “I’m a Virgo, so I….”

  2. I suspected this when I learned the left and right brain can take over for the other when it is damaged.

  3. Hm. I think these ideas are a distortion of ideas about handedness, which seem to go back a long way given the connotations and Latin meaning of the word “sinister”. I guess they’re testable.

  4. This old myth has been under fire for some time but with better evidence they have to give way. Long live science.

  5. It is certainly true that creativity activates both hemispheres. It’s indeed false to say one hemisphere is creative, the other isn’t. But that doesn’t mean lateralization isn’t important.

    Let me quote recent large review by Rex Jung that is referred to in the linked article:

    “While lesions in the right medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), were found to parallel profound impairment of creativity and originality measures, originality scores were higher when associated with left inferior frontal and posterior lesions. This may indicate that while the right PFC is responsible for generating unique ideas, it is in competition with those areas (specifically the left inferior frontal gyrus, left temporoparietal region and the left inferior parietal lobe) that are key to the production of language and the storage of logical, linear and automatic knowledge. This competition in healthy patients may actually inhibit the formation of creative thought. Therefore, in patients with lesions in the left language areas, the lack of inhibition of the right PFC may facilitate creative expression.”

    As you can see, it’s a bit complicated. We should not simplify. But it would be an even worse simplification to imply that it’s all bogus.

    Roedy claims “the left and right brain can take over for the other when it is damaged”. Yes, that’s true. But it matters a lot how old you are, and how plastic your brain is.

    For example, certain language areas lateralize to the left hemisphere. It seems that this has an inhibitory effect on the right side, so that those language circuits do not develop there. If a child has major damage to these areas on the left, the inhibitory effect is removed, and the functions can be developed on the right side. But this is much more difficult in older patients, because then the brain organization is less plastic.

  6. I am so pleased to hear that this type of research is going on. Creativity, design, art, innovation, etc. are extremely interesting subjects to me. Having created art and design work my whole life, I realized decades ago that one side of my brain wasn’t doing all the work; artist and creatives are bi-brained. The skill of say – painting can be broken down into many subsets of skills and those skills can be further broken down to other skills. Perceiving color, analyzing, and comparing one area to the next requires a certain level of “intelligence.” Conceiving an idea and then translating it to physical state requires a type of “intelligence” different than bodily movements and actions necessary. Creativity calls on us to orchestrate the many skills and abilities needed for a particular project. If one part of your instrument is not as strong or lacking in ability, it shows up in your work. A person lacking in spatial reasoning will create work that does not call for this skill or their work will not be as strong as someone with strengths in this area. Someone who isn’t an artist but has good spatial reasoning skills will identify something being off. Someone lacking in color perception can also be spotted. The same also applies to social skills, nervousness, calmness, organizational abilities, impulsiveness, OCD, shyness, or extroversion, expressiveness, anger, etc. I would dare to say that many artists personalities can be identified through their works and certain personalities and people with certain skills are drawn to certain art forms or creative modes of expression. I have yet to be surprise to meet an artist and think that their work does not reflect their intelligence, personality, sexuality, personal habits, etc. Yes, I want more of this research please!

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