Don't Overthink It, Less Is More When It Comes to Creativity

Posted on May 29, 2015

Most of us have experienced writer's block at some point, sitting down to write, paint or compose only to find we can't get the creative juices flowing. Most frustrating of all, the more effort and thought we put into it, the harder it may become. Now, at least, neuroscientists might have found a clue about why it is so hard to force that creative spark.

Three and a half years ago, Grace Hawthorne, an associate professor of design at Stanford University Institute of Design, known as the d.school, approached Allan Reiss, a behavioral scientist at Stanford’s School of Medicine. Hawthorne wanted to find a way to objectively measure whether or not her design class enhanced students’ creativity and Reiss, inspired by the game Pictionary, developed an experiment.

Participants in the study were placed into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine with a nonmagnetic tablet and asked to draw a series of pictures based on action words (for example, vote, exhaust, salute) with 30 seconds for each word. (They also drew a zigzag line to establish baseline brain function for the task of drawing.) The participants later ranked each word picture based on its difficulty to draw. The tablet transmitted the drawings to researchers at the d.school who scored them on a 5-point scale of creativity, and researchers at the School of Medicine analyzed the fMRI scans for brain activity patterns.

The results were surprising: the prefrontal cortex, traditionally associated with thinking, was most active for the drawings the participants ranked as most difficult; the cerebellum was most active for the drawings the participants scored highest on for creativity. Essentially, the less the participants thought about what they were drawing, the more creative their drawings were. Manish Saggar, a psychiatrist at Stanford and the study’s lead author, summarized the findings: "The more you think about it, the more you mess it up."

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Category(s):Creative Blocks

Source material from Scientific American


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