How Brainwaves Boost Our Creativity

How Brainwaves Boost Our Creativity


Certain electrical activity suppresses the obvious

I remember meeting a woman at a barbecue last summer. She and her boyfriend had on matching pith helmets, and we had a great conversation about her work as a creative director for cruise lines. It was her job to come up with entire themes, color palettes, brand names, etc. “Wow!” I thought, “This lady is super creative!” Some people just seem to have more creative spark than others, and I’m always interested in why that may be the case. New research from Queen Mary University of London and Goldsmiths, University of London, increases our understanding of the human creative process.

Past research has suggested that some people exhibit more creative impulses than others, because they can avoid the usual strong association between things. That’s why someone like me mulls over a party invite and thinks, “Barbecue = need sun protection = wear sunscreen,” while a super creative type goes, “Barbecue = need sun protection = pith helmet.”

In this new study, researchers used electroencephalograms to look at electrical activity in the brain. They found that brainwaves called alpha oscillations play a key role in creative thinking, by holding back habitual thoughts; that is, they allow us to reach for the less familiar concepts. “Taking a less traveled route is needed for thinking creatively,” wrote one of the study’s coauthor’s, Joydeep Bhattacharya, a professor at the University of London. “Our findings provide some evidence on how this is done in our brain.”

Researchers hope that in the future, it may even be possible to build a device that would stimulate these brainwaves—and thus creativity—when needed.

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