Neuroscience and Creativity

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we will be digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through leadership to addiction, these blogs will cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

This week on Neuroscience Wednesday at The Merit Club, Nick Skillicorn tells us whether creativity is based on our genes or our upbringing, as well as telling us how creative ideas are generated.

Nick Skillicorn speaks about the true definition of creativity and when something is actually considered to be creative, dispelling the idea that some people are creative and some people are not. We are all creative.

There's a lot of discussion about the way in which the left brain is directed on logical and analytical thinking, while the right hand side of the brain is more creative and focuses on innovation. However, as Nick explores, this idea is a complete myth - the brain is much more complicated, than this simplistic binary.

What is creativity?

People usually think of creativity as just producing an idea or creating artwork, but it is actually defined as producing a new idea which has value to someone.

When a new idea is being generated, new connections are formed by networks of neurons in the brain by the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. Skillicorn dismisses the idea that people are either ‘right’ brained or ‘left’ brained, because we use each hemisphere equally.

Creativity is not to be found in one distinct area of the brain, it is actually shared across a variety of regions and involves neurons from all parts of the brain.

How are ideas generated?

Most people’s brains will follow this sequence when generating an idea: 

Ideas are often just memories. The brain has been taught through experience that if it’s set a certain challenge, certain answers will be correct answers. If you set someone a creativity challenge, the first thing that comes into their minds are memories. However by pushing people further enough, they often come up with ideas that have incredible value to society.

The entire creative process is composed of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process and what you’re trying to create, different brain regions team up to handle the task using both the right and left hemispheres.

When you need to focus, your brain becomes very active - different aspects of creativity requires different brain activity, cancelling each other out. If you want to make those ideas valuable, it means that your brain has to oscillate between relaxation and focus in order to be creative.

There are 4 steps that your brain goes through:

  1. Preparation: every idea is based on knowledge that you already have. Idea’s are not spontaneous that are building in your brain by combining new connections.

  2. Incubation: majority of ideas happen when you have prepared your brain and taken on board knowledge and then step away and give it time to form those new connections.

  3. Illumination: If your brain then forms a new connection (happens subconsciously) that solves a challenge, it is when you have a light bulb moment.

  4. Verification: it is important to verify your idea.

Is creativity due to nature or nurture?

Is creativity due to genetic basis or is it all down to your upbringing? We all have a unique brain pattern and cell connections which are shaped by our personal experiences. In the 1970’s a study was conducted on sets of twins to measure whether creativity and intelligence was down to nature or nurture. They found that intelligence is 80% based on hereditary and creativity is 30% down to genetics. Surprisingly 70% of people showed that creativity was actually down to nurture.

A later study which was conducted on school children asking them if they consider themselves to be creative or not. The results showed that 90% of the children said yes, but by the time they reached highschool this dropped to 5%.

Why do we feel less creative as we get older?

Often it is because throughout our education, we are taught to give the right answers and get punished for giving the wrong ones. We were made to believe that in order to succeed in life we need to pass exams. A lot of our upbringing in school is about testing and giving the right answers, so often when we try to describe a new idea, you are likely to face criticism. Criticism, as naturally it isn’t yet perfect, however it is ingrained in us to do things properly so that we can avoid criticism.

The increase in digital technology is also to blame as it affects us cognitively. Screen culture is leading to shorter attention spans as a result of being able to find ideas through a simple Google search.

So...Can we become more creative?

Well, scientists say that looking at creativity in relation to the brain is an ongoing process. There is still yet so much more to learn and they are only just scratching the surface. An amazing way to test how creative you, your friends and family are, simply grab a mundane everyday object and see how many creative uses that can come up with!