The Creative Brain

Ainsley Ellison

By Ainsley Ellison ’22

Creativity plays an important role in today’s world, but little is understood about it. A common misconception about creativity and the brain is that “left-brained” people are more analytical while “right-brained” people are more creative. While this is false, a study done at Harvard University tested the brains of different people on their ability to come up with the most creative and unique uses for everyday objects. The people who thought of the most unique idea was classified as creative. The study showed that there are differences in the brains of creative people. 

The Networks of the Brain

There are 3 subnetworks involved in the creativity of the brain: the default mode network, the salience network, and the executive control network. The default mode network has a role in memory and stimulation. The salience network picks out vital information. The researchers believe the salience network may be the network that filters ideas developed by the default mode network. The executive control network discards useless ideas while keeping the important ideas. Usually, the three networks don’t work together. However, more creative people can use all these networks at once.

The Study

The authors of the  study took 163 people and did a Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan of the brain.. During the fMRI, the volunteers were given everyday objects such as a brick or a rope and were asked to come up with alternative uses for them. To judge creativity, a second group of volunteers were trained and asked to rate the ideas. Using a predictive model they developed from previously published data, the scientists found that they could estimate the creativity of the ideas of a subject by measuring the strength of the connections in the brain.


While there is still much to be discovered about creativity, this study has shed some light on how the creative mind works. Further studies hope to discover more about creativity and how it works (including if and how to train a brain to be creative). The authors of the study say they “…[hope] the study dispels some myths about creativity and where it comes from” (Harvard University).

Roger E. Beaty, Yoed N. Kenett, Alexander P. Christensen, Monica D. Rosenberg, Mathias Benedek, Qunlin Chen, Andreas Fink, Jiang Qiu, Thomas R. Kwapil, Michael J. Kane, Paul J. Silvia. Robust prediction of individual creative ability from brain functional connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201713532 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713532115

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