Series exploring topical scientific issues. This edition looks at how scientists are using some unusual techniques to understand how moments of creativity come about.
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We all know it...
..when it happens.
The moment when the light seems to go on in your head.
The instant when you experience a flash of inspiration.
Scientists are beginning to understand
how these moments come about.
They've devised a series of puzzles...
..to try and unravel how these moments of creativity happen.
And now they're able to see inside your brain
and witness the creative spark...
as it happens.
This is incredibly exciting.
Now we have the tools and are starting to really uncover
what creativity is, what goes on in the brain
when people have moments of creativity.
And what they're discovering has the power to make you...
and every one of us...
In the early-morning Californian sunshine...
..a team are preparing an experiment.
It's been designed by Jonathan Schooler...
That is awesome!
..to test how creative you are.
And I can see myself.
If you look at the advancement of humanity,
it fundamentally depends on creative innovation.
..anyone who has a notion of how it could be done.
Yeah. Move three of the quarters...
He's fascinated by one part of our creativity.
The moment when leaps of imagination, great and small,
seem to arrive...
..as if from nowhere.
This young guy gets it!
If you just look at all the different major advancements,
there's some fundamentally creative insight.
Just look how long it took for people to invent the wheel, right?
It's not obvious. Someone obviously had to come up with it.
For a mind game, it takes some setting up.
A metal pyramid is hoisted to balance perfectly on this.
A hundred dollar bill.
The question is, how can you remove this hundred dollar bill
without causing the pyramid to topple?
It's trickier than you might think.
You can't just pull it out.
You can't grab it from beneath.
How to get that hundred dollar bill out.
You have nothing to cut with?
No, unfortunately not.
You can't cut it in half.
Maybe you've got it.
You need to think outside the box.
Think outside the pyramid at this point.
But if, like most of us, you need a clue...
..Jonathan's team will shortly bring in something that might help.
In the past decade, there's been a surge of interest
in trying to understand how insight works.
-The moments when...
-You've got three almost completed triangles.
..without thinking methodically and logically,
-we come up with a flash of insight.
Congratulations! Look at that. There's three and four.
I think insight is a really, really important aspect of creativity.
Typically, what an insight involves
is overcoming some particular assumption.
And so the insight involves suddenly realising,
"Oh! There's another way of going about it."
Cool. Thanks for doing it.
And that is a critical element of the creative process in that regard.
This is a goat. OK? It's got legs...
Jonathan and his team use a seemingly simple set of puzzles
to try and measure this ability.
Moving just one of these sticks makes a different goat shape.
But which one is it?
Ah! Maybe this.
You're very close.
Did you get it?
Ta-da! There it is!
It's this one.
We do a lot of dull research in psychology, I have to say.
But this is one area in psychology where people really enjoy doing it.
They just get a thrill out of solving these problems, trying to solve them.
And when they get that a-ha! experience, they just love it.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
The thing about these insight moments is that they're fleeting,
elusive and really hard to study.
Move three of the quarters and only three
to create the same triangle, but facing in a different orientation.
Take this one.
You have to move three coins to turn the pyramid upside down.
But if you were able to do it,
Jonathan thinks something very distinct
was just happening in your brain.
Ah! You got it!
All these little puzzles are just one way of trying to understand
why and how insight works in our brains.
Back at the pyramid, the team are setting up some word clues
which may help you figure out how to remove the banknote.
They're using this experiment
to try and find out if one hemisphere
is more heavily involved in generating insight.
The left side of the brain,
traditionally associated with logical thinking and language,
or the right side, often linked to spatial awareness and intuition.
We took advantage of a fact,
which is that if you flash information
to the right visual field,
it goes initially to the left hemisphere,
and if you flash information to the left visual field,
it goes initially to the right hemisphere.
The word clues on the right side of the screen
are primarily interpreted by the left side of your brain.
The words on the left by the right hemisphere of the brain.
Do you see anything that helps?
Well, how about now?
-Can you burn it?
-Yep. That is the correct answer.
So the answer is you light the bill on fire
and it'll burn down and it's gone.
The insight is...
that you don't have to take it out whole.
But what's so revealing is that it really does matter
which side the clue, burn, is played to.
What we found, remarkably,
is that the right hemisphere was actually more sensitive
to the hints than the left hemisphere.
So when we presented information to the left visual field,
people were more likely to solve the problem.
Jonathan's found that the right side of the brain
is more likely than the left to make that connection
that leads to a sudden flash of insight.
Puzzles have become a rather important way
of starting to understand how insight happens.
But for scientists, it's just the beginning
of a much more ambitious attempt
to understand all the different mental processes
that together help to make us creative.
How they work in our brains.
Because if we could understand them,
we might all become a bit more creative.
The ability to think in novel and useful ways
has been one of the defining features of the human species.
I think creativity has been essential to the success of humans.
Every single conceptual leap forward
in some way was a form of creativity.
A lot of people associate creativity with artists and music and dance,
but if you have an iPhone
or if you enjoy the Internet, things like that,
science created that.
It helped us to fly to the moon,
to cure illnesses, to develop
microprocessors - I think you can see it everywhere.
Until recently, research into creativity has focused on what could
be seen from the outside, observing human behaviour and psychology.
Now, the tools of neuroscience allow us
to look inside the brain, to try and capture inspiration as it strikes.
Mark Beeman is one of the pioneers of this new science.
He's setting out to try and discover the neural correlate of creativity.
That's the bit of your brain that corresponds to these creative
moments of insight.
The difficulty of solving insight in the lab is we can't just take
the next Archimedes or the next Einstein and stick
her in a brain scanner and wait for her to have a great "aha" moment.
Even if she was willing we would need more than one "aha"
moment or eureka moment to study,
because a lot of things are going on in the brain all the time.
So he's come up with a systematic way to induce lots of insights.
Take a look at these three words.
What word goes with - pine, crab, and sauce?
Can you figure out what connects them?
How are you trying to solve this problem?
Are you testing out one word after another?
That's the analytical way. But you might also suddenly "get it"
in a flash of insight.
Pine, crab, sauce.
Did you get it?
But more importantly, did you get there by methodical,
Or did lightning strike?
Hi, Laura. Thanks for coming in today, I'm Dasha.
We'll be doing the EEG setup now. If you can just move your hair back.
In his lab, just outside Chicago, Mark's team are getting ready
to try and capture these insight moments.
For two millennia, since Archimedes shouted "eureka,"
people have believed that there's some kind of different
processing that allows them to sometimes have these novel ideas.
But because it feels different doesn't necessarily mean that
there's different brain activity, there's been arguments about that.
Mark's PhD student, Dasha, places an electroencephalogram,
or EEG cap, on a volunteer.
This will measure her brain activity as she solves the problems.
We're examining Laura's brainwaves as she's trying to
solve problems and then she tells us
whether she solves the problem analytically or by insight.
-Yes, that's correct.
So we're relying on her to be able to tell us
how she's solving the problem.
He records data from every one of these fleeting insight
moments using two very different scientific tools.
FMRI is very good at picking up where in the brain
and EEG is very good at telling us when it happens.
He's now analysed hundreds of hours of brainwaves.
And what that shows is that we really are thinking differently
when we have a creative moment.
There are differences when people tell us
they solved it by insight versus when they tell us
they solved analytically - they are doing different
things, behaving in different ways, having different
ideas in their mind, different parts of their brain active,
both at the moment that they solve it and leading up to that moment.
In a sense, he's found the creative spark.
Not just how it happens, but where it happens.
The part of your brain where these moments occur.
It happens here - the anterior superior temporal gyrus.
We have one on either side.
During a flash of insight, the left doesn't really react.
But the right side does.
A striking increase in high energy brainwaves,
called gamma waves, erupts from this one spot.
The brain's two halves may look like a mirror image.
Yet this aspect of creativity,
insight, does seem to happen in the right hemisphere.
That's because there is a subtle, but very real structural difference.
So it turns out neurons actually do differ on the left
and right hemisphere, very subtly in the ways that they're wired.
The dendrites, the pieces of neurons that collect
information, actually branch differently in,
at least some neurons, on the left and right side, characteristically
having broader branching on the right hemisphere, so that each
neuron is collecting information from a broader source of input,
and this allows them to find connections
that might not be evident otherwise.
Brain cells on the left have short dendrites,
useful for pulling in information from nearby.
But the cells on the right branch out much further
and pull together distant, unrelated ideas.
So it's here that novel connections between concepts can get made -
in a flash of insight.
It's not just that these moments of creative insight
feel subjectively different.
They are objectively different in your brain.
The moment of insight feels instantaneous.
John Kounios has discovered it's anything but.
He's interested in understanding the sequence of brainwaves that
precedes an insight.
He's looking at what's happening before the gamma wave spike
that marks the moment when an insight pops into your awareness.
So at the "aha" moment there's a burst in the right temporal lobe,
just about above the right ear.
If you go about half a second before that,
or more like a second before that or more like a second before that,
there's a burst of alpha waves in the back of the head
on the right side.
Now strangely enough, the back of the brain accomplishes
And alpha is known to reflect brain areas shutting down.
The effect of this preceding burst of alpha waves seem to be
to shut down parts of your visual cortex.
You have all of this visual information flooding in.
Your brain momentarily shuts down some of that visual information.
It is sort of like closing your eyes,
but in our experiments some are not allowed to close their eyes,
so the brain does its own blinking, and that allows this very
faint idea to bubble up to the surface as an insight.
An insight begins with an idea rumbling around
your unconscious mind.
And the effect of these alpha waves is to cut off distractions,
helping you summon that new idea into awareness.
Think of it this way,
when you ask somebody a difficult question you often notice
they will look away or they might even close their eyes or look down.
They'll look anywhere but at a face, which is very distracting.
If your attention is directed inwardly,
then you're more likely to solve the problem with a flash of insight.
So if you want to have more insights,
perhaps cutting off the distractions of the outside world -
just for a short time - could help increase your creativity.
2,000 years after Archimedes shouted eureka in the bath,
we now know that insights don't in fact come from nowhere.
They unfold through a chain of events in your brain.
It begins with a problem, one that logic can't solve.
Yet, in your unconscious mind, an insight is stirring.
Suddenly. A blast of alpha waves.
Your brain blinks.
Seconds later, a burst of gamma waves.
And this is what you experience as the moment of insight.
But insight on its own is just one of the mental
processes that make up creativity.
Scientists are also turning their attention to a different
aspect of creative thinking.
A study that has its roots in the turmoil of the Second World War.
At the height of the conflict, tens of thousands of US planes
were in the skies.
With enemy fire, breakdowns and accidents rife,
surviving as a pilot took a special kind of skill.
One that caught the attention of JP Guildford,
a psychologist working with the air force.
He noticed that in an emergency, some aircrew had the ability to
"think outside the box" - to come up with novel,
creative insights that saved their lives.
Guilford was among the first to believe that
intelligence alone had been overrated.
And that what he was studying in the airmen was undervalued.
He called this talent divergent thinking.
A form of creativity.
And he came up with a way to test it, one that is still in use today.
Venice Beach, California.
It's a hangout of the curious, the creative and the eccentric.
Today Professor Rex Jung is here to test just how creative they are.
And here it is.
This is the tool of creativity that we are going to use today.
It's a brick, a common brick.
It's known as the divergent thinking test.
Sir, do you want to take a test of creativity?
Of diverging from known ideas to come up with something novel.
So you take a common object like a brick,
and you ask people to think of as many creative ways
they can think of to use this thing.
Sir, a creativity test? You look like you're ready to go.
So come on over here...
It's simple, but powerful,
one of the most commonly used creativity tests.
..my bag of tricks.
I'm going to give you a minute to tell me as many new
and useful creative uses for this brick that you can think of
in the next minute. Go.
-Hammer. Building doorstop.
-A brick wall.
Each idea is given a score.
From one, for the mundane or obvious...
-A building block.
Making a castle.
..to five for the most imaginative.
-Making a really heavy shoe.
To make a humungous hole.
The more highly inventive new ideas you come up with,
the more of a divergent thinker you are.
-Thank you very much.
-Great. Thanks for your time.
HE HOWLS LIKE AN ANIMAL
Measuring creativity for scientific research now involves a series of
different tests, and Rex has devised his own broad measure of creativity.
He's been able to see how it compares to IQ,
the traditional measure of intelligence.
One of the things that got me
interested in studying creativity was it doesn't appear that
intelligence and creativity are isomorphic,
are the same thing, it appears that there's overlap between the two,
but that they're somewhat different constructs from each other.
There's something very different that is
going on in the brain of people who are creative as opposed to
people who are acting intelligent.
So creativity and intelligence seem to be different processes
on the outside.
Rex is one of the first scientists to look inside,
and examine the structure of the brain,
to see what makes people highly creative.
For some time, scientists have understood the basic neural
mechanisms of intelligence.
It's about the fast and efficient firing of neurons
in the grey matter.
The mystery is what's happening
when you come up with creative ideas?
And here's where Rex started to find differences.
This beautiful image is of the white matter of your brain.
So this is the most sophisticated image we have,
this is an image of the white matter fibre tracts.
Looks like a big spaghetti ball,
but it actually makes a little bit of sense.
Each of us has 150,000 kilometres of these connections.
It's an intricate wiring system that connects regions of your brain.
So these are the actual roadways going
in different regions of the brain,
connecting up different neural networks.
His studies showed that there was indeed
a difference in the brain structure of highly creative people.
It's about the white matter.
What we learned was somewhat surprising, in that
unlike intelligence, where more is invariably better,
more tissue, more white matter connectivity, more biochemistry.
In creativity the picture was the opposite of what
we predicted, where less is better
in terms of higher creative capacity.
But why should less white matter mean more creativity?
It seems that because certain areas of the brain are less packed,
less organised, that nerve traffic is slowed down.
So instead of having this very efficient pathway
going from A to B, you have lots of different directions,
lots of different pathways that ideas can,
can flow, and in this idea space, it's more likely for new ones
to collide with each other and be brought into conscious awareness.
This cognitive slowdown, which makes it more likely for ideas to
connect with each other, seems to be an important
part of the mechanism that underlies divergent thinking.
Rex believes he has started to see the difference
between what's going on inside us
when we display our intelligence and our creativity.
And it's all, in a sense, about speed.
the research is showing that the information is travelling
the shortest pathway, the quickest pathway that it can get,
from point A to B.
This is very important that you can have a fast and short pathway,
to get from point A to point B.
But creativity is different.
It's not about speed and efficiency. Creativity is slow, and meandering.
These winding roads,
I think, are analogous to the pathways in the brain that are
coming together less frequently, so you don't know quite where they're
going to end up, but it could end up some place very interesting.
But this is certainly a less travelled road than the...
than the highway that we were on,
it's a slower, more meandering pathway and I think that's
how it works in the brain.
It would be wrong to think that brain structure alone
made you creative.
But Rex's work shows - for the first time - that there is
a neurological basis to divergent thinking, to creativity itself.
The city of Baltimore.
Here, another aspect of creativity is emerging for science to study.
It's just always been a deep obsession of mine. I dream about it,
I go to bed thinking about it, I wake up thinking about it.
I always wonder how is it that sound can produce beauty.
Charles Limb has the night off work.
He'll be spending tonight the same way he spends all his spare time.
Listening to music.
I think that jazz is probably one of the most creative art forms
in all existence, in all forms of music.
From the perspective of creation of new ideas,
it doesn't get much better than jazz.
Charles is fascinated by the way ideas flow so fast
when jazz musicians improvise.
This piece of music will never be played the same way again.
From a basic melody, they're creating something new,
making it up on the spot.
What they are doing is a real talent.
But it is, in a sense, something we all have.
That's exactly what Charles is researching,
here at John's Hopkins hospital in Baltimore.
One of the intriguing things about creativity is that it exists in
everybody in both high and low levels,
so maybe somebody's not used to thinking
of themselves as an artist, yet if they think about their daily
behaviour, most of it is unscripted, most of it is improvised,
they don't actually plan every second what they are going to do.
So to really understand how we improvise,
Charles is studying the best musicians he knows.
-Mike, hi, how are you?
-Thanks for coming in.
And that's why Mike Pope has come into the lab.
We're going to be doing a functional MRI of your brain
while we're improvising, and while we're...
Charles's plan is to use FMRI to image what's
happening in his brain as he improvises.
-So here we are.
-So this is it?
-So this is the scanner room,
where we're going to be doing your brain scanning.
We've got his plastic piano.
You're going to be able to play this in the scanner.
This is the thing you spent all the time working on?
Two years to make it work. Why don't we get you situated then?
All right. Sounds good.
Creativity is probably the combination of ordinary
mental processes combined in ways that we hadn't described before,
that somehow allow us to gain new insights and to generate new ideas.
I think that's creativity in a nutshell.
-Can you see your hands?
-Yeah, sure can.
-Am I allowed to turn a little bit, like that?
-Uh-huh. Yeah. Go ahead.
For Charles, it's a chance to explore the secrets
of one of his jazz heroes.
I really hope that we can gain some incredible insights
in how the brain innovates.
But on the other hand, as far as my own personal joy in a
science experiment, I don't think I can do anything more
enjoyable in science ever, for the rest of my life.
It's really bizarre!
The computer plays a recorded melody.
Then Mike starts to improvise.
Charles plays too, to make Mike feel a bit more at home.
I hope I can keep up with him, he's really pretty, pretty special.
But Mike's improvising is just too fast.
The result of this experiment have been really exciting. We saw
changes in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain,
that's the frontal lobes of the brain,
that's the portion of the brain that kind of makes us human.
One of the main roles of this large area at the front of the brain
is in conscious self-monitoring.
Watching what you do and what you say.
Jazz musicians, I think, naturally have to take a risk musically and
to promote that ability to take risks,
have to turn off a little bit of the gatekeeper.
And so we saw the shutdown of the
pre-frontal cortex in these musicians.
Kind of the opposite of what you would
do at a cocktail party when you are very focused on saying
the right thing or making sure you don't say something silly.
Charles is now widening his research to study other kinds of improvisers.
We've actually recently
looked at freestyle rap, and we've looked at illustrators, cartoonists.
And we're seeing that the pre-frontal cortex in both of these
settings seems to decrease in some component,
when you switch from a memorised, or a non-creative component,
to a generative, improvised component.
It's all part of Charles' grand ambition.
He's out to discover
whether there is a deep creative potential that lies within us all.
These art forms are different, yet they share a
basic process in the brain, and so I have in my mind, long-term,
this idea that if you were able to define these circuits,
we might be able to enhance them in many ways,
that in the end, humans might be better at being creative.
I think obviously this is the kind of work that will take many
lifetimes to really consolidate, but I'm just glad to even start
some of these experiments, to try to answer these questions.
Research that began with mind games and brain teasers has started
to unlock some of the secrets of what makes you creative.
The connected - but different - processes of insight.
But crucially they have revealed there is indeed a neural
correlate of creativity, a signature of creativity in your brain.
And now we're discovering that this research
could be rather helpful to all of us.
SHE SQUEALS WITH DELIGHT
In the skies above Holland,
Simone Ritter is experiencing something new.
Until today, she had never set foot in a glider.
What she's doing forms the backbone of her research
to make all of us more creative.
Simone has a theory...
Well, this virtual reality lab.
The most important equipment is this backpack here.
OK, so, if you could wear it...
She believes that new
and unexpected experiences can boost your creativity.
So she's devised an experiment that is designed
to alter your cognitive habits.
-So maybe you already recognise where you are?
-I'm in the cafeteria.
Yeah, right. Erm, and what you will do is,
you will first walk around a little bit,
just to get used to the equipment.
Just walk around, you have a lot of space.
The location looks familiar.
But Annika has stepped into a virtual world that cannot
exist in reality.
One designed to startle, and shake her up.
OK. And now you see a table on the left side, do you?
-Yeah, with a suitcase.
Could you please walk towards the table and towards the suitcase? OK.
SHE GASPS AND LAUGHS
OK. It gets smaller.
In this virtual world the laws of physics are subverted.
The suitcase grows smaller as she approaches it.
The bottle flies upwards, defying gravity.
-After three minutes...
-..she's completely disorientated.
-There's a pole.
It's great. It's funny,
but it's also an experience that opens up your mind.
And that's what we, what we want.
Welcome back to the real world.
Simone's aim is to disrupt what she calls our functional fixedness.
That's a mental block, where your thinking gets stuck in rut.
If you experience something unexpected, this will also
influence your cognitive patterns -
you would break old cognitive patterns,
you would overcome functional fixedness,
and this will help you to make new associations between concepts.
But is she right?
Annika, like the other participants in Simone's study,
takes an online version of the divergent thinking brick test.
And what she's discovered is that experiencing this strange new
virtual world has a very real effect.
The results showed an increase
of ten to 15 percent in creativity scores.
The first lesson is that unexpected
and unusual experiences help you to think more flexible and creative.
And that this is one way to help you to think different,
to approach problems in a different way.
And I would advise people to look for unexpected experiences.
But most of us don't have virtual reality suites at home.
How could this apply to our everyday lives?
Simone has devised something new, something far more commonplace,
that we can use to increase our creativity.
This is the real university canteen.
Here the day begins like any other.
Starting with a classic Dutch breakfast -
the chocolate chip sandwich.
We all know how to make a sandwich.
But what's about to happen here is
what Simone calls "schema violation".
A disruption of a normal pattern of thought or behaviour.
The computer gives step-by-step instructions.
The volunteer, Thomas, follows each prompt.
Then, he's prompted to do something differently.
Yeah, as you can see he was really surprised,
because now he has to put the chocolate chips on the disc.
That's not the way they normally do it,
they first put the butter on the bread.
The resulting sandwich is pretty standard.
But he got there by a different, unexpected route.
This sort of activity also boosts
your creativity test scores by up to 15 percent.
Just performing such an activity where you see OK,
it doesn't have to be like I assume it to be,
but it can also be done differently, in a new way, in a different way.
Also it enables you think different, to break cognitive patterns,
to overcome functional fixedness, and this helps you to make new
associations between concepts, which is really important for creativity.
Thankfully it doesn't have to be a chocolate chip sandwich.
It's about disrupting any routine.
We don't need virtual reality, where we manipulate the laws
of physics, it can be as simple as that, don't prepare a sandwich
in the normal order but just switch one of the steps, and this
will make you more flexible - this will help you to think creative.
So give yourself room for creativity.
The effect of changing your routines changes your brain.
Well-travelled neural pathways are abandoned,
forcing new connections to be made between brain cells.
And that means more new and original ideas.
I'm back on the ground.
It's late afternoon at Stearn's wharf.
Jonathan Schooler and his team have one last experiment to run.
One which may help explain one of the most enigmatic
mysteries about creativity.
Why you have your best ideas when you are least expecting them.
It all begins with a familiar test of divergent thinking -
-the brick test.
-You can start by having a seat.
We're going to do a test of your creativity.
OK, so there's going to be a couple of different phases
to this experiment today. You're going to have two minutes
to generates as many uses as possible for this brick that you can think of,
and you can be as creative as you like.
I could write a note around it, and put it through somebody's window.
-Erm, I could hit somebody over the head with it.
Use the pattern as a stamp.
I could use it, like, to hold some papers down, like a paperweight.
Now they take a two minute break.
Each person is asked to spend it a different way.
The first volunteer is told just to sit and do nothing.
The second person is given a non-demanding task.
Arrange the blocks by colour.
Start with one colour, and just sort them into piles.
The third person is given a very demanding task.
Build a little model.
I want you to used these Legos to actually build a house.
The volunteers don't know it, but these two minutes are actually
the most important part of the experiment.
This is when their minds are either given a chance to wander, or not.
Would it be a bad thing if I fell asleep right now?
We'd like you to remain awake.
After the break, they take the divergent thinking test again.
Has their creativity changed?
We're going to return back to this brick test,
and we're going to see again in two minutes' time,
how many uses you can come with, but new uses,
ones that you haven't said originally.
Er, use it to, erm...
It turns out that people occupied with the demanding task
do the worst on the second creativity test.
But what is surprising is who comes first.
Not those left staring into space, doing nothing.
But the people given a mindless, easy task.
I could break it into pieces, and paint different things on each one,
like flowers, or whatever, and sell them.
I could cut it into four pieces, and put it under the legs of the bed
to make the bed a little bit higher.
Mind wandering seems to particularly facilitate
the creative process.
Now one interesting thing is, you might think that just giving
nothing to do would have also created similar mind
wandering benefits, but it seems that not all mind wandering is equal.
That mind wandering that's broken up by engaging
in a non-demanding task seems to be more functional than the mind
wandering that happens when you're given absolutely nothing to do.
So if you want to come up with a creative solution to a problem,
don't just do nothing.
Do something undemanding instead.
We don't know exactly why that is, but one reasonable possibility is by breaking it up,
by sort of thinking a little bit about the task and
coming back and thinking a little bit, and coming back,
sort of stirs the pot and allows a special kind of unconscious
recombination that's particularly beneficial for creativity.
You now have a good excuse to get up from your desk
and walk away from the problem.
Well, one important lesson is that if you're stumped, take a break
and allow the unconscious processes to take a hold.
But it also suggests the kind of break that you might want to take.
Rather than just sitting there, you might want to take a walk,
or take or shower, or do something - gardening.
Something that's not especially demanding but still sort of occupies
your mind a little bit,
and yet nevertheless enables the mind to wander.
The research does underline the notion that
if you want to be more creative, it is best not to be too focused.
At least, not all the time.
Mind wandering has a long history in creativity.
But now we're starting to understand just why it's so effective.
This is a question that Rex Jung has been able to try
and answer in the last few years.
Beethoven liked to take a long walk when he was
thinking about music,
I like to mow the lawn, this repetitive action
that you're going back and forth, and doing some physical
activity, occupying your body but your mind can wonder freely.
He studied brain scan after brain scan,
of people as their minds wandered.
He noticed a distinct change in one area of the brain.
It's called the frontal lobe, right above your eyes.
What he observed was something he calls transient hypofrontality,
a kind of temporary sleep mode.
Where the frontal lobes are slightly pulled back,
the brakes are slightly pulled back off the system
and ideas are flowing more freely and some of these ideas from the
subconscious can percolate into conscious awareness more readily.
He's found that this temporary brain state, when you're open to
creativity, is actually something we can easily induce.
People can get there with lots of different ways,
whether it's meditation, or a long run, or a bath,
there's lots of ways to down-regulate your frontal lobes
temporarily and allow creative ideas to flow.
Rex has discovered the frontal lobes play a powerful gate-keeping
role in our creativity.
But what's intriguing is that in the research,
this bit of brain keeps on turning up again and again.
It's now showing up in the work of people studying insight.
It seems some people are naturally hypofrontal -
their frontal lobes are a little less active, all of the time.
People who tend to solve problems with insight have a lower
base level of frontal lobe activity,
in other words their frontal lobes are not controlling them,
focusing them as much. It's more of a free for all.
I mean, different brain activity doing all sorts
of different things at once.
And of course, we now know that this transient dip in frontal lobe
activity is what helps you lose your inhibitions when you improvise.
It's not that scientists have located the ultimate
source of creativity.
But it is this area of the brain with its ability to release
your mental handcuffs that is at the forefront of current research.
For centuries, creativity has been a subject considered
off-limits to scientists.
It's seemed too elusive, too subjective to be studied.
Creativity and music, art, improvisation,
all these things, they are magical things to experience, but I know
that they are not magic, they happen because we have brains that function
in a certain way that allow us to do these things, and so I want
to make a distinction between the fact that these experiences might
be transformative, for us they might be profound life-changing things
we'll never forget, but that doesn't mean that they can't be explained.
Now things are very different.
At last we have to tools to explore it.
This is incredibly exciting.
Now we have the tools, we're starting to really uncover
what creativity is, what goes on in the brain
when people have moments of creativity, and it is just incredibly
fascinating, the next ten, 15, 20 years are going to be amazing.
But for all that science has revealed, we are still a long way
from coming up with a complete understanding of creativity.
There's lots of these theories rumbling around,
and what we're trying to do is put together a theory of creativity,
and how it's manifested in the brain.
We're getting close but we're not quite there yet.
We have all these different scientists
that have pieces of the puzzle,
but no-one's put it together quite yet to make a beautiful picture.
But while we wait for that beautiful picture to emerge,
in the meantime we can at least all become a bit more creative.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
It is a feeling we all know - the moment when a light goes on in your head. In a sudden flash of inspiration, a new idea is born. Today, scientists are using some unusual techniques to try to work out how these moments of creativity - whether big, small or life-changing - come about. They have devised a series of puzzles and brainteasers to draw out our creative behaviour, while the very latest neuroimaging technology means researchers can actually peer inside our brains and witness the creative spark as it happens. What they are discovering could have the power to make every one of us more creative.