I was just laying on my couch, studying for a test, when all of a sudden I thought to myself, “it seems like evidence-based practice is not the same for every condition we treat, sometimes we have more evidence to back it up, other times we know it works in the real world-it is just hard to replicate in research. It is more dynamic than we give it credit. But the one thing that is constant is how patients perceive their care, for better or worse.” And boom! I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The image was so clear in my head that I could not study any longer. Two hours later, I made my GIF. But what part of my brain caused me to have this sudden inspiration and creativity?
states and ‘getting into the groove’ of the music,” which is just a rad sentence to read in any scientific paper. But it was the towards the end of the paper that really blew my socks off and sums up my article perfectly:
“Indeed, there may be no single human endeavor that is more deserving of neuroscientific inquiry than our capacity to create—it is the root of all innovation and problem solving, how individual brains generate new information, and how we collectively evolve as a society.”4
I mean, that is just, groovy man.
First, let us distinguish two terms. Oleynick, et al.1 described it best with, “Creativity is an appraisal of novelty and usefulness that may apply (to various degrees) to content at any point in the creative process, from a seminal idea to the completed product. Inspiration, in contrast, is a motivational state.” They also propose that much of the research does not distinguish the two terms: while someone may be naturally creative, what are the components to properly compel someone to to do something when inspiration hits?1 Here the authors point out that the neural pathways involved with motivation and/or our internal reward system are most likely involved.1 Although inspiration has not received as much attention in the research, there are plenty of studies on the neuroscience of creativity.
First off, it does not appear that creativity and IQ are inherently linked, according to some studies.2 However, knowledge or expertise in a certain discipline does appear to be linked to creativity.2 And this inherently makes sense. As this paper defines creativity as, “the ability to understand, develop and express in a systematic fashion, novel orderly relationships.”2 So to create novel ideas in a certain subject, one must already know what has already been developed in the past. Further research points to this specific knowledge is stored in the posterior neocortex of the brain.2 And the axiom about getting inspiration in the shower or running? There seems to be some merit. One study showed that a network of neurons are active during times of “passive sensory processing” but lessen activity during higher cognitive functioning.3 However, it does not appear that only one hemisphere plays a larger role in creativity (i.e. left handed people are more creative) but rather the ability for the two hemispheres to communicate.2,3 And although researchers have some ideas on where creativity comes from, the actual pathways are largely unknown, which can be attributed largely on how we typically study the brain.
Here’s the rub: the way we typically research neuroscience is the antithesis of the creative process. The scientific method is strict and rigorous. Creativity and inspiration are elusive and mercurial. This isn’t Whiplash-we can’t just yell at people to unlock their potential. For example, remote association tests (RATs) are three words that have a common conjugation (i.e. rain, test, stomach: acid or cottage, swiss, cake: cheese). Researchers monitored a subject’s brain activity, with fMRI or EEG, while completing these tests.3 When the subject determined the conjugated word, they would press a button to time stamp the event.3 Researchers then determine where the increase in brain activity occurred.3 But as Sawyer3 points out, was the brain activity a result of the creative process or rather the brain responding to knowing the answer. Furthermore, who is at their most creative in a tube or with gels and electrodes on their head? Personally, I get claustrophobic and I fell asleep the last time I volunteered for an EEG study. Not really the most conducive environment for the creative process. Which brings me to improvisational jazz.
In my research, I came across an amazing article entitled, “Difficulties in the neuroscience of creativity: Jazz improvisation and the scientific method.”4 It largely makes the same points Sawyer makes above but then describes a model in which to study creativity by studying jazz musicians. As McPherson and Limb4 describe, “Jazz musicians are trained in quickly entering flow