Neural-network brain scans are revealing how to boost your creativity


Closeup side view of a young African American man creating street art drawing on the wall.

Practising mindfulness can increase creative thinking

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FROM Jane Austen to Albert Einstein, Zaha Hadid to Ai Weiwei, it is easy to name people who have advanced the thinking of humankind – but it is much harder to explain why people like this think so much more creatively than the rest of us. Are their brains just made that way, or can anyone learn to do it? The mystery of creativity has long baffled scientists. Now, researchers are finally making some progress in drawing back the curtain. Better yet, their insights could help us all to exercise a little more original thinking.

Some of the most exciting insights come from the “dual process theory” of creativity, which distinguishes between idea generation and idea evaluation. Idea generation involves delving deep into our existing knowledge for the seeds of inspiration – perhaps by drawing an analogy from a completely different domain. Free association is key at this stage, as one thought leads to another, more original insight. In the second phase, idea evaluation, we must apply a more critical eye to choose ideas that will best suit our goals. A novelist must decide whether a bizarre, supernatural plot twist will titillate or alienate readers; an engineer must consider whether their fish-inspired plane will be practical and efficient. Any large project requires numerous iterations of these two stages in the long and winding journey from conception to completion.

Brain scans of people engaging in creative problem-solving suggest that idea generation and evaluation rely on…

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