A slow brain can nurture more creative ideas, a new American research has suggested.
Rex Jung at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and his team discovered that creativity is associated with low levels of the chemical N-acetylaspartate, found in neurons, and seems to promote neural health and metabolism.
But neurons constitute the brain's grey matter - the tissue long thought to be linked with thinking power, rather than creativity. Consequently, Jung is now focusing his creativity studies on white matter, which largely comprises the fatty myelin sheaths that wrap around neurons. Less myelin signifies the white matter has a lower 'integrity' and transmits information more slowly.
Numerous recent studies have suggested that white matter of high integrity in the cortex, which is linked to higher mental function, means increased intelligence.
However, when Jung analysed the connection between white matter and creativity, he came across something very different.
For the study, Jung selected 72 volunteers and used diffusion tensor imaging, which measures the direction in which water diffuses through white matter - an indication of its integrity.
The subjects' capacity for divergent thinking - a factor in creativity that includes coming up with new ideas - had already been tested.
Jung saw that the most creative people had lower white-matter integrity in a region connecting the prefrontal cortex to a deeper structure called the thalamus, compared with their less creative peers.
Jung believes slower communication between some areas may actually make people more creative. "This might allow for the linkage of more disparate ideas, more novelty, and more creativity," New Scientist quoted Jung, as saying.
According to Jung, creativity and intelligence can still go hand in hand. Each appears to be controlled by white matter in a different region. Thus, theoretically, there's no reason why someone might not have high integrity in the cortex, producing intelligence, but low integrity between the cortex and deeper brain regions, leading to creative thinking.
He said: "They appear to function relatively independently."
Sleep is also a key determinant of creativity.
Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, once defined creativity as “just connecting things.” Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface.
While traditional stories about sleep and creativity emphasize vivid dreams hastily transcribed upon waking, recent research highlights the importance of letting ideas marinate and percolate.
“Sleep makes a unique contribution,” explains Mark Jung-Beeman, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies the neural bases of insight and creative cognition.
Some sort of incubation period, in which a person leaves an idea for a while, is crucial to creativity. During the incubation period, sleep may help the brain process a problem.
“When you think you’re not thinking about something, you probably are,” says Dr. Jung-Beeman, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology.
Rex Jung's study has appeared in the open access journal PLoS ONE