Exploring different forms of creative expression


  Exploring different forms of creative expression

Creativity is a nebulous term, but it generally refers to the ability to solve problems in novel and original ways.

A recent study suggests that researchers may be able to measure creativity by evaluating how people shift between different thought patterns. Interestingly, this same study found that more creative people showed increased connectivity between two brain networks: the default mode network, which is thought of as being involved with mind wandering, and the executive control network which is associated with self-regulation. While these findings are far from conclusive, they provide some intriguing insights into what makes someone more or less creative.
Looking at creativity today requires a different approach than focusing solely on artists, musicians, or writers. In fact, people have been taught to think of creativity as something that requires a certain type of artistic talent. Creative thinking is valuable and can be used to invent new products and technologies, but many people have never considered the everyday ways that creativity might apply to their lives.
One way to identify more creative individuals is by examining the thought patterns that are involved with solving problems. Unlike most of us who are habitually analytical thinkers, creative individuals seem to be more open-minded and less bounded by their usual thinking modes. This change in thinking is referred to as a shift in thought, or an idiom.
One of the most famous shifts in thought is the Gestalt switch (Stroop effect). The Gestalt switch is a cognitive phenomenon in which many non-verbal stimuli provide additional information about some stimulus. When we're faced with a task requiring us to identify whether or not two shapes are the same, we begin by reading the two shapes themselves. It should be noted that this process does not require conscious effort; however, it requires us to shift between traditional analytical and creative modes of thinking simultaneously.
This type of switching between modes may seem more difficult when we are both engaging in different types of tasks (such as analytic and creative tasks). However, several studies have shown that the brain network involved in mind wandering (the default mode network) shows increased activation when a person is performing a task.
This phenomenon may be due to the way in which the default mode network operates. The default mode network is typically active during rest and allows us to get in touch with our emotions and feelings. A recent study found that increased connectivity between the executive control network and the default mode network was associated with creativity, specifically when it came to more divergent problem-solving strategies.
The results of this study were unexpected due to the fact that creativity is often thought of in terms of cognitive flexibility (ie- being able to think outside of boundaries). However, this study found that creative people show increased connectivity between the default mode network and executive control regions. Increased connectivity between these two regions may actually be an indicator of creativity due to the fact that both the default mode and executive control areas are important for self-regulation. Individuals with increased levels of connectivity between these regions may be able to better regulate their thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of self.
The idea that creativity involves some degree of self-regulation is not surprising. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has suggested that emotion plays an important role in how we learn and acquire new skills. Damasio has also proposed the somatic marker hypothesis which states that emotions influence decision making by providing a valuable source of information to motivate decisions. While this may seem like a strong argument for using our feelings to make better decisions, Damasio has indicated that emotions are not the best source of information when making decisions due to the fact that emotion is not always accurate or reliable.
When we feel a sense of excitement about an upcoming challenge or project, we may be more likely to think about it in ways that involve creativity. This excitement allows us to be more open-minded and flexible, which is important when it comes to problem solving. For example, imagine you're trying to calculate how much money you would save if you bought new dishwashing tablets instead of washing your dishes by hand. You have created a set of rules based on past experiences, but you're stuck. You can't seem to break those rules in order to come up with a new solution. When we're feeling excited, we're less likely to hold onto those old rules and more likely to focus on solving the problem creatively.
However, it's important to note that creative solutions do not always lead to the best solutions. For example, when we solve problems through creativity and flexibility, we may be more likely to create multiple options or alternatives for our problems rather than focusing on a single solution. This problem is often referred to as "analysis paralysis," which can be caused by an excessive amount of flexibility in our mindsets.
The feeling of excitement can be helpful when it comes to creative problem solving, but it's important to focus on solutions as opposed to brainstorming all of the options that may be available. In fact, studies have shown that people tend to jump between the two types of thinking (analytical and creative) quickly; however, more creative individuals are better at shifting between these modes.
This finding suggests that creativity is not a single process but rather one that involves a complex interplay between analytical and creative modes of thinking. As we've seen, there are several areas in the brain responsible for our analytical and creative thinking, most notably the executive control network and default mode network. In the next section, we'll examine how these networks interact with one another in order to generate creative solutions.
The Default Mode Network and Executive Control Networks
The brain network responsible for creativity is referred to as the default mode network. This network is comprised of areas in the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and posterior lateral parietal cortices. These areas are thought to be important for self-awareness and introspection (ie- being able to think about your own thoughts). More specifically, they allow us to access our autobiographical memories (ie- memories of specific events that have happened in our lives) and our feelings.
A recent study found that individuals who had higher connectivity between the default mode network and the executive control network showed increased creativity on a task requiring creative problem solving. At first glance, this may seem like an odd study due to the fact that it's very difficult to isolate how creativity affects problem solving. However, what researchers found was that increased connectivity is associated with creative solutions to problems.
In contrast, individuals with decreased levels of connectivity between these areas were less likely to generate creative solutions for a group of math problems. This finding is interesting because it indicates that having increased connections between these areas is an indicator of creativity.

While the brain regions responsible for creativity may be difficult to identify in terms of specific areas, it's clear that creativity is intricately related to our thoughts, feelings, and memories. As we've seen, this fact suggests that our creative thinking is not merely a by-product of our analytical thinking; rather it's an important contributor to solving complex problems.
In the next section, we'll examine how creative problem solving involves the integration of all three areas involved in creative thinking: self regulation, memory, and emotion.
Understanding how these various aspects converge provides us with insight into the developmental process by which children learn to be creative thinkers in their everyday lives.

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