What makes a person creative?
Creativity is defined by noted psychologist John R. Hayes as, “the potential of persons to produce creative works whether or not they have produced any work as yet.”
In recent years, scientific evidence has revealed that mental cognition results from the dynamic interactions of distributed brain areas operating in what’s called large-scale neural networks.
In the past, scientists thought that creativity came solely from the right hemisphere of the brain, but more recent discoveries have shown that many neural networks across the brain spark creativity and control our responses to various stimuli.
When we tell a joke, a story, or even think about that awesome dinner we had last Saturday, our brains are taking input from the world around them, accessing memories and creating new thoughts — in short, cognition, the constant of our experience.
Here’s a look at three large-scale neural networks that contribute to the psychology of creativity.
The salience network is “an intrinsically connected large-scale network” located deep in the brain within the anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Studies have found that the salience network contributes to an array of complex brain functions, including social behavior, communication and self-awareness.
A Stanford University neurologist Michael Greicius and a fellow scientist William Seeley described the salience network as the system that prepares the brain for action. Think of how the brain responds to “fight or flight” stimuli. One example of this is how a driver responds when he or she sees a pedestrian dart across a busy street, or when a person attempts to recall facts quickly during a quiz or trivia game.
In order to make a situation salient, it requires significance to the individual involved. The stimuli for the salient network can come internally, such as feelings of hunger and pain, or from external sources, such as a police siren. As something becomes discernable – as a police car with its sirens blaring becomes louder – the brain is directed to respond. If the stimuli remained far away, we may have been less likely to respond.
In a recent study, Greicius found strong direct evidence that the salience network plays a key role in “motivation and a readiness to act.” Interestingly, some individuals with more activity than normal in the salience network have been linked with autism, and some individuals with damage to key areas of the salience network have been diagnosed with a type of dementia.
Tests on lab animals have shown that when the salience network is blocked or interfered with, the animals gave up more easily when trying to find food through a maze than those whose salience network wasn’t inhibited.
In all, the salience network helps our brain take in and monitor information from internal or external sources while being flexible enough to give us different stimuli on how to respond to the situations, allowing for creativity in a stressful situation.