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Human Creativity Caused by a Surprising Brain Region

First Posted: May 29, 2015 07:13 AM EDT

What causes some people to be so creative? Scientists have discovered a surprising link between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in the cerebellum, a structure in the brain that's more typically thought of as the body's movement-coordination center.

The cerebellum is traditionally thought of as being the brain's practice-makes-perfect, movement-control center. But until now, it hasn't been linked to creativity.

Actually measuring creativity isn't easy. In this latest study, the researchers borrowed an approach from Pictionary, a game in which players try to convey a word through drawing to help their teammates guess what the word is. In this case, the researchers selected action words like "vote," exhaust" and "salute." In all, the scientists tested 14 men and 16women in an MRI chamber.

When the volunteers emerged from the MRI chamber, they were asked to rate the words they'd been asked to draw for relative difficulty. The researchers found that increasing subjective difficulty correlated with increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex. However, high creativity scores were associated with low activity in the executive-function center and with a higher activation in the cerebellum.

"As our study shows, sometimes a deliberate attempt to be creative may not be the best way to optimize your creativity," said Allan Reiss, one of the researchers, in a news release. "While greater effort to produce creative outcomes involves more activity of executive-control regions, you actually may have to reduce activity in those regions in order to achieve creative outcomes."

In other words, the more you think about being creative, the more you mess it up.

The findings reveal a bit more about the brain-based physiology of creativity. This, in turn, may lead to further research and studies into enhancing and promoting creativity.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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