The cerebellum, a brain structure located behind the brain stem, is generally regarded as being involved in movement control, coordination and balance. It also plays roles in motor skills learning as well as precision timing of movement.
But there is also a surprising link between creative problem-solving and heightened cerebellum activity, investigators at Stanford University have found.
The study, for which researchers drew inspiration from the game Pictionary, is the first to find direct evidence that this brain region is involved in the creative process.
The study’s senior author, Allan Reiss, MD, professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, remarked:
“Our findings represent an advance in our knowledge of the brain-based physiology of creativity.
“We found that activation of the brain’s executive-control centers—the parts of the brain that enable you to plan, organize and manage your activities—is negatively associated with creative task performance.
Creativity is an incredibly valued human attribute in every single human endeavor, be it work or play. In art, science and business, creativity is the engine that drives progress. As a practicing psychiatrist, I even see its importance to interpersonal relationships. People who can think creatively and flexibly frequently have the best outcomes.”
Creativity is to many a valued characteristic, but it is not as easy to measure as you ight think.
More than 25 ealier studies have attempted to look at neural correlates of creativity, said the study’s lead author, Manish Saggar, PhD, an instructor in psychiatry.
“Everybody wants to think creatively,” Saggar said. “But how do you get somebody to actually do that on command? Forcing people to think creatively may actually hamper creativity.”
The problem is made worse by the fact that subjects’ brain processes are monitored while in a dark, cramped MRI chamber. Probably not the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking about places where creativity can flow.
“Creativity has to be measured in a fun environment,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re bound to have anxiety and performance issues.”
Saggar solution involved selecting some action words like “vote,” “exhaust” and “salute.” Then he and his serially tested 14 men and 16 women in a functional MRI chamber. They recording activity in the participants brains while they drew a word or, for comparison, a zigzag line, which called for fine-motor control but not much creativity.
The drawings were separately rated by two different researchers on five-point scales of appropriateness and creativity.
Following the scans, subjects were asked to rate the words they’d draws for difficulty. It was found that higher rated difficulty of drawing a word correlated with higher activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an executive-function center involved in attention and evaluation.
High creativity scores assigned by the raters, however, were associated with low activity in the executive-function center. Higher creativity scores were associated with higher activation in the cerebellum.
“Anatomical and, now, functional evidence point to the cerebellum as doing much more than simply coordination of movement,” Saggar said.
Manish Saggar, Eve-Marie Quintin, Eliza Kienitz, Nicholas T. Bott, Zhaochun Sun, Wei-Chen Hong, Yin-hsuan Chien, Ning Liu, Robert F. Dougherty, Adam Royalty, Grace Hawthorne & Allan L. Reiss
Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity
Scientific Reports 5, 10894 doi:10.1038/srep10894