While researchers can’t claim to know the source of creativity, they are indeed getting closer to understanding where it occurs in the brain. A new MRI study from Stanford University has linked the cerebellum, the region of the brain responsible with coordinating movement, to creative output.
The study, entitled Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity, was published yesterday in Scientific Reports.
The study looked at the brains of 16 women and 14 men as they played rounds of Pictionary with an MRI-safe tablet. Participants were given 30 seconds to draw out a word, or–for comparison–a zigzag line. Afterwards, the drawings were rated from 1 to 5 based on how many elements were involved, how accurately the subject was described, and overall creativity. The researchers found higher creativity scores linked to greater action in the cerebellum. Meanwhile, the participants whose drawings scored highest for creativity had the least amount of activation in the executive function brain region.
“Our findings represent an advance in our knowledge of the brain-based physiology of creativity,” said , Allan Reiss, M.D., an author of the study and professor of radiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. “As our study shows, sometimes a deliberate attempt to be creative may not be the best way to optimize your creativity,” he said. “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.”