The Science of Creativity
The human brain is a pattern recognition system. It’s how we learn and remember things like language and job tasks. A brain that is hyper efficient can miss detail if that detail falls outside of proscribed patterns. It’s normal for people to ignore this ‘out of sync’ data as an anomaly (i.e. something out of norm, an exception to a rule).
Since not all brains are the same, some people filter data differently, which is why you and I can look at the same piece of data (or a piece of art, or a crime scene) and see entirely different things. A person’s bank of experiences and perceptions affect these filters. Our brains can also create their own patterns, which it recognizes when data is presented that supports that pattern. I believe this falls into the arena of ‘pre-conceived notion.’
I agree with the scientific theory that it’s this lack of filtering that allows creative people to see the world differently. We view our surroundings in the absence of the limitations, structure and stored rules that non-creative people work under.
The D2 Connection
Science calls it Cognitive Disinhibition… the brain’s failure to filter out extraneous information. Or, as previously stated, the brain’s lack of filters. Divergent thinking is thought to be influenced by low levels of dopamine in the thalamus.
Dopamine is a brain chemical / neurotransmitter which carries signals through the brain relating to behavior, cognition, motivation, and reward. Dopamine receptors regulate the levels of dopamine that reach the thalamus.
The thalamus has more dopamine receptors than any other part of the brain. It acts as a relay center, filtering information before sending signals to the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain which governs perceptual awareness, cognition, and reasoning. The thalamus also receives information via the dopamine neurotransmitters.
So, what does this all mean ???
Research in Stockholm and England has found:
- Creative people have lower levels of D2 receptors in the thalamus
- Science calls it decreased auto regulation of information flow
- This means that more information reaches our brains than the brain of a non-creative person
The same study found:
- Decreased D2 levels are thought to increase cortical brain activity, which allows networks of cortical neurons to switch between processes more easily and process multiple stimulate simultaneously. Science refers to this hypothesis as “creative bias” which may spur originality and elaboration. The lack of filters allow creative people to make connections that non-creative people miss entirely.
There is also some thought that low D2 levels also play into a creative person’s ability to retrieve information fluidly by association, thus allowing creative achievement that does not correlate to traditional measurements for intelligence and knowledge.
This lower D2 level in a healthy person can be used to creative advantage. It can also be a marker for depression and schizophrenia in less healthy individuals. I have seen depression classified as communication disorder, based on the D2 theory which may be attributed to misfiring neurotransmitters which affect how information is relayed (and thus perceived) in the brain. The best laymen’s example I have read is the comparison of neurotransmitters to a car engine. Your spark plugs can fire even if improperly gapped or out of sequence, but your car will not run very well …
People with lower D2 levels disregard conventional limitations, rules, and boundaries. Dali saw melting clocks. Picasso saw life as a series of cubes. Michelangelo saw David inside of a pillar of stone. DaVinci saw machines that could fly…
We see the unusual connections…
The constant barrage of unfiltered, uncensored information, ignites creativity in people who cannot filter that information. So, when someone tells me “I could never do that” there seems to be a chemical explanation for it.
(to be continued)