The Two Brain Centers That Drive Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

Mayseless   Dr. Naama Mayseless

How do our brains cook up creative ideas?   Functional MRI imaging now enables scholars to track precisely which areas of the brain are involved, when the brain is trying to be creative. Using this tool,   Haifa University researcher Dr. Naama Mayseless (in her doctoral research, directed by Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory), Dept. of Psychology, found that:

     “…. for a creative idea to be produced, the brain must activate a number of different – and perhaps even contradictory – networks.  Developing an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain: the associative – “spontaneous” – network alongside the more normative – “conservative” – network.  

In the first part of the research, respondents were give half a minute to come up with a new, original and unexpected idea for the use of different objects. Answers which were provided infrequently received a high score for originality, while those given frequently received a low score.

   In the second part, respondents were asked to give, within half a minute, their best characteristic (and accepted) description of the objects. During the tests, all subjects were scanned using an FMRI device to examine their brain activity while providing the answer.

For the answer to be original, an additional region worked in collaboration with the associative region – the administrative control region. A more “conservative” region related to social norms and rules. The researchers also found that the stronger the connection, i.e., the better these regions work together in parallel – the greater the level of originality of the answer.

   “On the one hand, there is surely a need for a region that tosses out innovative ideas, but on the other hand there is also the need for one that will know to evaluate how applicable and reasonable these ideas are. The ability of the brain to operate these two regions in parallel is what results in creativity. It is possible that the most sublime creations of humanity were produced by people who had an especially strong connection between the two regions,” the researchers concluded.


   In short: As I have been teaching – head in the clouds (“associative brain”) and feet on the ground (administrative pragmatic brain).  

   I think the crucial connections that Dr. Mayseless discovered can be strengthened. Think of creative ideas. Then think of how to make them practical, useful, feasible, implementable. Together, those two brain centers can change the world.