This pair of studies suggests that even minimal cues of psychological distance can make us more creative. Although the geographical origin of the various tasks was completely irrelevant – it shouldn’t have mattered where the questions came from – simply telling subjects that they came from somewhere far away led to more creative thoughts.
Parkinson’s experts across the world have been reporting a remarkable phenomenon - many patients treated with drugs to increase the activity of dopamine in the brain as a therapy for motor symptoms such as tremors and muscle rigidity are developing new creative talents, including painting, sculpting, writing, and more.
Prof. Rivka Inzelberg of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine first noticed the trend in her own Sheba Medical Center clinic when the usual holiday presents from patients - typically chocolates or similar gifts - took a surprising turn. “Instead, patients starting bringing us art they had made themselves,” she says.
Inspired by the discovery, Prof. Inzelberg sought out evidence of this rise in creativity in current medical literature. Bringing together case studies from around the world, she examined the details of each patient to uncover a common underlying factor - all were being treated with either synthetic precursors of dopamine or dopamine receptor agonists, which increase the amount of dopamine activity in the brain by stimulating receptors. Her report will be published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.
Giving in to artistic impulse
Dopamine is involved in several neurological systems, explains Prof. Inzelberg. Its main purpose is to aid in the transmission of motor commands, which is why a lack of dopamine in Parkinson’s patients is associated with tremors and a difficulty in coordinating their movements.
But it’s also involved in the brain’s “reward system” - the satisfaction or happiness we experience from an accomplishment. This is the system which Prof. Inzelberg predicts is associated with increasing creativity. Dopamine and artistry have long been connected, she points out, citing the example of the Vincent Van Gogh, who suffered from psychosis. It’s possible that his creativity was the result of this psychosis, thought to be caused by a spontaneous spiking of dopamine levels in the brain.
There are seemingly no limits to the types of artistic work for which patients develop talents, observes Prof. Inzelberg. Cases include an architect who began to draw and paint human figures after treatment, and a patient who, after treatment, became a prize-winning poet though he had never been involved in the arts before.
It’s possible that these patients are expressing latent talents they never had the courage to demonstrate before, she suggests. Dopamine-inducing therapies are also connected to a loss of impulse control, and sometimes result in behaviors like excessive gambling or obsessional hobbies. An increase in artistic drive could be linked to this lowering of inhibitions, allowing patients to embrace their creativity. Some patients have even reported a connection between their artistic sensibilities and medication dose, noting that they feel they can create more freely when the dose is higher.
Prof. Inzelberg believes that such artistic expressions have promising therapeutic potential, both psychologically and physiologically. Her patients report being happier when they are busy with their art, and have noted that motor handicaps can lessen significantly. One such patient is usually wheelchair-bound or dependent on a walker, but creates intricate wooden sculptures that have been displayed in galleries. External stimuli can sometimes bypass motor issues and foster normal movement, she explains. Similar types of art therapy are already used for dementia and stroke patients to help mitigate the loss of verbal communication skills, for example.
The next step is to try to characterize those patients who become more creative through treatment through comparing them to patients who do not experience a growth in artistic output. “We want to screen patients under treatment for creativity and impulsivity to see if we can identify what is unique in those who do become more creative,” says Prof. Inzelberg. She also believes that such research could provide valuable insights into creativity in healthy populations, too.
If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome. In fact there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions: a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness. Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure. Studies in animals simulating 7R’s actions suggest it increases their taste for both movement and novelty.
Stanford professor and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Robert Sapolsky gives twenty five lectures about the biology of human behavior for free, on YouTube. Here are the Cliff’s Notes to those lectures.
- Don’t Get Stuck in Your Field
- Evolution isn’t What You Think it is
- Why Human Courtship is So Damn Confusing
- There’s More to Evolution than Competition
- DNA is Weirder than Anybody Thought
- DNA Gets Weirder Still
- Nature or Nurture is a Fallacy
- Hormones Don’t Cause Things, they Modulate Them
- Some Behaviors are Hard-Wired
- How We Learn
- Thought and Emotion are Intricately Connected
- There is a Biological Basis for Gender and Sexual Identity
- Humans do Aggression and Empathy Different From Any Other Species
- There is a Biological Basis for Aggression
- Our Brains are Hard-Wired for Language
- Not all Systems are Predictable: Chaos Versus Reductionism
- Life, Emergence, and Complex Systems
- You Don’t Have to Choose Between Being Scientific and Being Compassionate
READ MORE (worth the click)
“What I tell patients is, if you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can,” says Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University. He’s even developed a metric for monitoring your dosage: If you are having trouble sleeping, cut back on your last cup of the day. From there, he says, “If you drink that much, it’s not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot.”
Philosophers and scientists alike have found ways to describe boredom as an experience, from the ochlos of ancient Greeks to the unresolved conflicts of modern psychodynamic theory. But when it comes to what actually triggers boredom, an answer has remained elusive. Boredom can occur in a perplexingly broad range of situations and seems to involve both our external environment and our inner resources.
Now, after an exhaustive survey of every study they could locate that mentioned boredom—over 100 are referenced in the final paper—a group of psychologists from York University in Canada has proposed an answer, essentially a new unified theory of boredom.
In a first-of-its-kind study, a research team led by Simone Ritter of the Radboud University Behavioral Science Institute in the Netherlands reports the beneficial effect of sleep on creativity can be enhanced by an evocative scent.
Thorkil Sonne is betting that, given the right environment, an autistic adult could not just hold down a job but also be the best person for it.
Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?
One answer is psychological distance. According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely. In this new paper, by Lile Jia and colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington, scientists have demonstrated that increasing psychological distance so that a problem feels farther away can actually increase creativity.
YouTuber Vsauce raises an interesting question about the future of music in the digital age: Since there are a finite number of tones distinguishable to human ears and it could only take a few notes in common for different songs to sound similar, will we ever run out of new music?
In 1998, New Vision Psychic Newsletter explored “the importance of boredom and unpatterned perception,” developing the idea that “to be bored is to be on the verge of being startled awake.” Boredom leaves you alone with yourself, without the safety of a book or TV show to distract you. It hurts, but it is the pain that comes with learning how to feel. It may not be something you like, but part of you still “glories in it. In boredom, worlds open to us.”
Fantastic article by Lindsay Abrams in The Atlantic:
“Flow”: What academics define as “a subject’s complete immersion in creative activity, typified by focused self-motivation, positive emotional valence, and loss of self-consciousness,” or, per the inimitable Urban Dictionary, “a rapper’s ability to rhyme to phat beats in a skillful manner.”
Accepting that second definition as an accurate example of the first, neuroscientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders took 12 professional rappers and ran them through an fMRI machine. While their brains were being scanned, the artists listened to an 8-bar instrumental track and were asked to rap — first memorized lyrics and then their own, unrehearsed rhymes. That is, what academics call “spontaneous lyrical improvisation” and the rest of us know as freestyle. Flat on their backs, with their heads restrained from nodding, the artists were nonetheless able to enter the flow; and the researchers were able to identify huge differences in their brain activity: Spontaneous (left) versus conventional (right) conditions; warm colors indicate increased activity. (Scientific Reports)
Basically, what they noticed was that during freestyle, there were significant changes in the prefrontal cortex (credit where credit is due: Jonah Lehrer was spot on about this part of the brain being integral to the creative process). The areas implicated in processes like organization and drive were marked by an increase in activity, while those parts responsible for close self-monitoring and editing were deactivated. In this context, the authors explain, “self-generated action is freed from the conventional constraints of supervisory attention and executive control,” allowing sudden insights, seemingly unbidden, to emerge.
In other words, in order to turn on their creative flow, the rappers had to switch off their inner critic. And in fact, the researchers believe that when they’re freestyling, the artists are actually occupying an altered state of mind. A closer look at their brain activity reveals that an entire, unique network emerges during the process, one in which motivation, language, emotion, motor function, sensory processing and the representation of the artists’ subject experience all interact in unusual ways to create the flow state.
And it’s not just rappers: The authors believe that their findings can be extrapolated to explain creativity itself. Specifically, they point to the first phase of any artist’s process, in which unrestrained bursts of inspiration and ideas are brought forth. In other forms of art, like writing, those ideas are later edited and revised.
Belief is contagious. It wins supporters. It’s self-fulfilling. Here’s how to get there when nagging, negative thoughts are holding you back.
One of my favorite pieces from Scott Barry Kaufman.
Recounting his recording sessions with the young Michael Jackson, famed record producer Quincy Jones remembers that “Michael was so shy, he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes — and the lights off.” What a contrast from his onstage extroverted, charismatic and bold performance!