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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.

Does YOUR doctor listen to you? But, really listen?

By Shlomo  Maital


Does your doctor listen to what you say? I mean, REALLY listen? And ask you a lot of questions?

   I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book, Reaching down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain Disease, by Dr. Allan H. Ropper, and Brian David Burrell. (St. Martin’s Press, 2014). Basically Burrell, a wonderful writer, was a fly on the wall, and wrote down stories about how Ropper figured out what went wrong with people’s brains.

   A key point Ropper stresses is this:   The technology for scanning brains has advanced tremendously. MRI and CT scans reveal a great deal. But nonetheless, a great doctor still needs to listen to the patient, observe and ask questions.   Dr. Ropper writes:

   “Many [patients] have driven for an hour or two, even three, to [Boston], and they want to be heard. What they hope, what they expect, what they decree, is that we take the time to listen, because the act of listening is therapeutic in itself. When we do it right, we learn details that make us better doctors for the next patient. The residents may not get this yet. They are focused on diagnosis and treatment, on technology, on scales, titers, doses, ratios, elevation, and deficiencies. All well and good, I tell them, but don’t forget to listen!

   Does your doctor listen to you. Really listen? If not – and who can blame them, many times they are required to see X patients per hour, leaving no more than 10 minutes per patient — try to find one who does.

   As I’ve noted before, even in modern medicine, technology comes last, not first.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital