The creative brain

People who are creative are often referred to as “right brain” people while the more analytical, rational thinkers are described as “left brain”. This comes from the idea that the left and right hemispheres of the brain perform fundamentally different tasks. However, new research has suggested that this might be an overly simplistic notion.

For the study researchers took MRI scans of the brains of subjects while they performed some tasks.

The subjects were shown three shapes; a circle, a C, and an 8. They were then asked to visualise images that could be made by arranging those shapes in certain ways. For instance, a face could be made by lying the 8 on its side to be the eyes, put the circle in the centre as a nose, and use the C on its side to be a smiling (or sad) mouth.

Subjects were also asked to piece three geometric shapes together in their minds to see if they combined to form a square or a rectangle. This second task requires spatial processing but not necessarily creativity.

The creative task did light up activity in the right hemisphere. This much was expected. What was new was that the left hemisphere became more active when the creative task was underway than when the spatial, more traditionally “left-brain”, task was undertaken.

This suggests that your left brain is actually doing a significant and important part of the heavy lifting when it comes to creativity. People who think of themselves as “right-brain” might have quite a bit of “left-brain” going on as well and vice-versa.

It all points to notions of being left and/or right brained as being a touch simplistic. After all, simple black and white distinctions rarely capture the mystical complexity of existence. Or am I being a bit too right-brain about it? Or was that my left-brain talking? Oh, bugger…

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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