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The science of creativity

Creativity isn’t just a matter of enjoying artistic passions. The root of creative thinking and our human appreciation of abstract concepts is buried deep within our brains. Neuroscience is a complex field, and with advancing studies and technology, scientists are frequently discovering more about the neurological connections and chemicals associated with creative thinking and our human responses to it. 

The myth of left brain/right brain

Some cognitive functions are associated with very specific parts of the brain – the parietal lobe, for example, processes sensory input. However, when it comes to creativity, there is not a single region or side of the brain involved – contrary to what you might have heard about different sides of the brain controlling either logic or creativity. Rather, the entire creative process involves a variety of different brain regions that interact with one another, varying based not only on where you’re at in your creative process, but also what it is you’re actually trying to create.

Shower thoughts

Do your best a-ha! moments come to you while you’re shampooing your hair? You’re not the only one. The brain is most focused when it’s performing a task – analyzing a problem, for example. During more routine activities like showering, your brain is able to “defocus.” Your brain has an autopilot function referred to as default mode network (DMN). DMN moments occur during monotonous activities or when you’re daydreaming, and they relax your prefrontal cortex. Active thinking, on the other hand, allows your brain to focus but might prohibit the brain from making less structured connections. It’s those unexpected connections during relaxed moments that often lead to some of our most creative ideas. 

This is your brain on music

Music makes the brain light up – literally – with pleasure, a fact explored and documented in fMRI scans by researchers Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor. The medial prefrontal cortex, unique to humans, helps us to value more abstract concepts like music – an appreciation different from the satisfaction we derive from more survival-based things like water, food and warmth. The brain enjoys finding patterns, and different parts of the brain are active when a person hears a new song compared to when it hears that memorized favorite tune. Can’t stop listening to that one song? When music surpasses our expectations, it causes the brain to release the neurochemical dopamine – a rewarding (and maybe even addicting) feeling. 

Mindful reading

Discover these titles at your local Anythink: 

Sources: Scientific American, Business Insider, Mental Floss

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