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February 19, 2018 Monday 10:55:56 AM IST

Mystery of creative thinking ‘decoded’

Teacher Insights

19th February, 2018: The brain region called posterior cingulate cortex is responsible for ramping up the firing rates of neurons, as creative ideas pops up in our mind, according to a collaborative study conducted by researchers of the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Columbia University and Duke University. A result to this effect, which carries lot of promises on nudging the behavior patterns of people, is published recently in the journal Neuron.

It is well known that our brain allow us to focus on a particular task, especially a task that leads to reward. However, it is less established which trigger in the brain causes people to break from a routine, especially when doing so poses potential risks. The current study throws light into this less-known fact.

Consider the story of an effective traveling salesman. The merchant moves from door to door, interacting with people in the hopes of making a deal. Not everyone purchases a product, though there is an ideal pattern for success. Once the salesman understands this, he follows that pattern until it stops working and a behavior change is necessary for continued prosperity.

In an experiment with monkeys, simulating the above-mentioned situation, it was found that neural activity there built up until it peaked, at which point the animals changed course. It exposed the correlation between the brain spikes and the divergent thinking and action.


“If you increased activity in the area exogenously, if I put an electrode in there and stimulated, then you would break off from the routine, you would become more exploratory,” Platt, one of the co-authors of the paper, said. “Similarly, if you could suppress activity, you’d see the opposite. You’d become hyper-focused on one option, and you may never make a change.”

“People who have more activity there have more mind-wandering, and they tend to be more creative,” according to Platt. “It suggests that capacity to be more creative evolved for a very specific purpose, which is to allow you to forage efficiently in a landscape that’s always changing.”


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