Consumer Psychology Speed Summaries

Speed Summary: Digital Innovation and the Real Neuroscience of Creativity

Digital innovation needs creativity, right? Right.

So digital innovation needs ‘right brain’ creative types (creative, passionate, sensual, tasteful, colorful, vivid, and poetic), right?  Wrong.

You need creativity all right, but you won’t find it in ‘right brain’ people or places.

Because right brain creativity is a myth.  Creativity is a whole brain phenomenon. That’s the central message of this month’s Scientific American article – The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.  Joining a concerted effort by the scientific community to debunk an enduring myth in marketing and beyond that the right brain is where creativity happens, and that creative people are more right brain dominant.  It’s not, and they are not.

Evidence from over 1,000 fMRI brain scans finds no evidence people are ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’. Creativity is the dynamic interplay of large scale mental networks instantiated across various areas of the brain.  For instance, the activity of imagining – critical to creativity – is correlated with cross-hemispere activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortexes and the media regions of the temporal lobe. It’s a network thing, not a right brain thing.

For any card-carrying neo-functionalist, all this is self-evident (looking for creativity in areas in the brain is like looking for music in the molecular structure of an iPod – it’s ‘greedy reductionism‘).

But what does all this mean for creativity in digital innovation? First, stop fetishising ‘right brain’ types – they don’t exist.  Second, chill out – key to creativity is to stop your mind focusing on a problem, and allow it to roam free.  This will reduce activation of the Attentional Control Network (the ‘creativity prevention officer’ of your brain), and allow you to have more creative thoughts by making novel associations between thoughts.   The trick, though, is to snap back into focus when you have an idea, and then build on that idea.

The real neuroscience of creativity is messy, creativity is a cross-hemispherical network of networks used in daydreaming, imagining, remembering, reflecting, making meaning, and social cognition.

Right brain creativity. RIP.

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

3 Comments Add New Comment

  1. I am concerned that findings like this could severly alter some indivduals self image. I have always considered myself as someone who is ‘right brained’. Being creative, loving geometry over algerbra, being able to have different perspectives on problems.
    I don’t believe that ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ do not have a place in the world. Watch this talk on TED about this scientists experience with left and right brain.

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