Friday, June 27, 2014

Creativity Link Roundup: The Brains! The Brains!

Apparently I am thoroughly sick of writing about academic topics this summer, so let's talk, or link to articles about, brains--sweet, nourishing brains.

"So far, this study—which has examined 13 creative geniuses and 13 controls—has borne out a link between mental illness and creativity similar to the one I found in my Writers’ Workshop study. The creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do (though not as high a rate as I found in the first study), with the frequency being fairly even across the artists and the scientists."  I would only say that, from talking to people who have worked in psychiatric wards, the reverse is not necessarily true: madness does not necessarily mean creativity.
  • "Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime" from Scientific American (and can't we all say a big "amen" to that?). Not only does the brain like to laze around from time to time, but it's a hearty eater: 
By the mid 1990s, however, Marcus Raichle of Washington University in Saint Louis and his colleagues had demonstrated that the human brain is in fact a glutton, constantly demanding 20 percent of all the energy the body produces and requiring only 5 to 10 percent more energy than usual when someone solves calculus problems or reads a book.  . . . Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime. 

  •  "This is Your Brain on Writing" at The New York Times. This one gives a big implicit push to the idea that if you write every day, like a professional writer, you'll actually access different parts of your brain than a novice. 

  • As the scientists report in a new study in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently, even before they set pen to paper. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech. 
    “I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice. 
    When the two groups started to write, another set of differences emerged. Deep inside the brains of expert writers, a region called the caudate nucleus became active. In the novices, the caudate nucleus was quiet. 

    The caudate nucleus is a familiar part of the brain for scientists like Dr. Lotze who study expertise. It plays an essential role in the skill that comes with practice, including activities like board games.
    • Scientific American's blog informs us that there is no such thing as right brain/left brain activity: 
    • In a recent large review, Rex Jung and colleagues provide a “first approximation” regarding how creative cognition might map on to the human brain. Their review suggests that when you want to loosen your associations, allow your mind to roam free, imagine new possibilities, and silence the inner critic, it’s good to reduce activation of the Executive Attention Network (a bit, but not completely) and increase activation of the Imagination and Salience Networks. Indeed, recent research on jazz musicians and rappers engaging in creative improvisation suggests that’s precisely what is happening in the brain while in a flow state.

  •  And because I can never let this alone as a topic, a reprise of "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades" at the New York Times: 

  • But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
    Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how. 
    “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain. 
    “And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.


    Earnest English said...

    This is really interesting stuff! But I also recently read an article that suggest that psychiatry's claims have not been borne out in terms of research and treatment (as well as the "chemical imbalance" theory), so this has made me wonder whether the markers of mental illness we're used to looking for are actually inaccurate.

    undine said...

    Earnest English, good point. It may be that the interpretation of mental illness changes over time, so the markers change, too.