Defining and Mapping Creativity in the Brain
The New York Times, 5/7/10
"Grab a timer and set it for one minute. Now list as many creative uses for a brick as you can imagine. Go.
The question is part of a classic test for creativity, a quality that scientists are trying for the first time to track in the brain.
They hope to figure out precisely which biochemicals, electrical impulses and regions were used when, say, Picasso painted 'Guernica,' or Louise Nevelson assembled her wooden sculptures. Using M.R.I. technology, researchers are monitoring what goes on inside a person’s brain while he or she engages in a creative task.
Yet the images of signals flashing across frontal lobes have pushed scientists to re-examine the very way creativity is measured in a laboratory.
'Creativity is kind of like pornography—you know it when you see it,' said Rex Jung, a research scientist at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque. Dr. Jung, an assistant research professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico, said his team was doing the first systematic research on the neurology of the creative process, including its relationship to personality and intelligence.
Like many researchers over the past 30 years or so, Dr. Jung has relied on a common definition of creativity: the ability to combine novelty and usefulness in a particular social context.
As the study of creativity has expanded to include brain neurology, however, some scientists question whether this standard definition and the tests for it still make sense. John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University, argues that the standard 'has outlived its usefulness.'
'Creativity is a complex concept; it’s not a single thing,' he said, adding that brain researchers needed to break it down into its component parts. Dr. Kounios, who studies the neural basis of insight, defines creativity as the ability to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in a nonobvious way.
Everyone agrees that no single measure for creativity exists. While I.Q. tests, though controversial, are still considered a reliable test of at least a certain kind of intelligence, there is no equivalent when it comes to creativity—no Creativity Quotient, or C.Q.
Dr. Jung’s lab uses a combination of measures as proxies for creativity. One is the Creativity Achievement Questionnaire, which asks people to report their own aptitude in 10 fields, including the visual arts, music, creative writing, architecture, humor, and scientific discovery. "
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