How the creative brain works bbc

Creativity in the brain - 4 perspectives from neuroscience

2. Creativity in the brain through excitation and inhibition of neurons

Neurons are interconnected and perform one of two functions on each other: inhibition (Inhibition) or excitement (Activation, reinforcement). In this way, certain information and processes are strengthened or weakened. Our attention can also be controlled in this way: We can use it to reinforce certain stimuli and associations and inhibit and block out others.

Relatively open, uninhibited attention that can draw from a wealth of information is decisive for the development of creativity in the brain. Therefore, states that are highly inhibited, such as feeling fearful, or states of intense focus, for example when I am trying to achieve something through sheer willpower, are counter-creative.

And yet it has to be something like one conceptual framework give: within the framework (verbally e.g. what are the possible uses for a brick?), people are fired, associations can be made within, other processes (e.g. thinking through tax returns) are suppressed.

This becomes particularly clear in the flow state or in hypnosis: here only very specific stimuli are particularly present and all others have disappeared from the scene.

3. Hormones & emotional states: importance for creativity in the brain

The following hormones play a role in creativity:

Dopamine is considered a happiness hormone and is part of a positive arousal and a strong inner drive. Dopamine has been shown to contribute to creativity [5]. This was particularly noticeable in Parkinson's patients who were given dopamine to raise their mood: for example, a graphic designer who was ill suddenly developed a great artistic boost and painted van Gogh-like paintings.

Serotonin is also considered a happiness hormone and ensures a positive mood. The same applies here: with too little serotonin it looks bleak. Anxiety and depression usually block creativity and are associated with a lack of serotonin. If a person finds out of their gloomy conditions, however, a particularly strong boost in creativity can then arise. E.g. Frida Kahlo often processed the trauma of her serious accident in her famous works of art.

Continues to play Acetylcholine an important role in maintaining attention in creative processes, in learning and in creating memories.

Just like depression and anxiety, psychological stress inhibits creativity: subadrenaline we may experience a strong surge of activity, but rarely profound creativity. Likewise setsCortisol the body under stress and fear, thereby blocking creativity.

4. EEG and electromagnetic oscillation states

Neurons transmit information and stimuli via electrical impulses. The brain consists of billions of neurons that fire electrical impulses and this results in vibrations and emergent states. Depending on the rhythm of the oscillation, the oscillations will be in different frequency bands: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Theta, Gamma. These are measured using an electroencephalogram.

The following terms with reference to creative processes serve as donkey bridges for the frequency bands:

  • amazing alpha [8 - 12 Hz]
    Alpha waves occur when you relax or
    relaxed wakefulness, especially with your eyes closed. Relaxation is an important part of deep creativity. It has been proven that an increased alpha power occurs when ideas arise and when thinking divergent [7].
  • busy beta [13 - 38 Hz]
    Beta waves occur e.g. B. when constantly tensing a muscle or with active concentration. They are usually associated with a high level of excitement - possibly also with high concentration, but the following slower frequencies are usually more valuable for creativity.
  • genius gamma [39 - 70 Hz]
    Of all the brain frequencies, gamma is the highest and is also associated with peak performance of the brain, in which people experience intense focus and transcendence. For example, monks in meditation have a high proportion of gamma. [7]
  • deep delta [0.5 - 4 Hz]
    Delta waves occur especially in dreamless deep sleep and are therefore associated with regeneration and the body's own healing processes.
  • thoughtful theta [4 - 8 Hz]
    Theta waves occur at the transition between sleep and wake, often with strong visual dream-like stimuli. E.g. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were famous for cultivating daydreams and short naps. These wake-sleep transitions are very similar to trance and hypnosis states as the interface between the unconscious and conscious, at which particularly valuable creative impulses can arise. This is also evidenced by a
    Study of the state of flow [8].

By the way, this topic quickly becomes simpler. Higher brain processes such as creativity or visual thinking are very complex, with a large number of regions and vibrational bands playing a role.

Related topics on creativity in the brain:

References to the neuroscience of creativity and the gallery images

[1] Tim Newman, The neuroscience of creativity, MedicalNewsToday, 2016

[2] Zamora-López, Gorka & Zhou, Changsong & Kurths, Juergen. (2011). Exploring Brain Function from Anatomical Connectivity. Frontiers in neuroscience. 5. 83. 10.3389 / fnins.2011.00083.

[3] Francisco J Varela, Jean-Philippe Lachaux, Eugenio Rodriguez, and Jacques Martinerie. The brainweb: phase large-scale integration. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2: 229-39, 2001.

[4] Khalil R, Godde B and Karim AA (2019) The Link Between Creativity, Cognition, and Creative Drives and Underlying Neural Mechanisms. Front. Neural Circuits 13:18. doi: 10.3389 / fncir.2019.00018


[6] Fink, Andreas, and Mathias Benedek. "EEG alpha power and creative ideation." Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 44 (2014): 111-123.

[7] Antoine Lutz, Richard Davidson et al .: Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. In:, November 8, 2004.

[8] Katahira K, Yamazaki Y, Yamaoka C, Ozaki H, Nakagawa S and Nagata N (2018) EEG Correlates of the Flow State: A Combination of Increased Frontal Theta and Moderate Frontocentral Alpha Rhythm in the Mental Arithmetic Task. Front. Psychol. 9: 300. doi: 10.3389 / fpsyg.2018.00300

[9] Carson SH, Peterson JB, Higgins DM. Decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high-functioning individuals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003; 85 (3): 499-506. doi: 10.1037 / 0022-3514.85.3.499

Not only does creativity arise in the brain. Further topics on neurobiology: