Polymethodological Study Of Creativity

Perhaps the most comprehensive study of the neurophysiology of creative processes has been conducted by researchers at the institute of the human brain at the Russian Academy of Science. Four tasks of varying creative content were specifically developed for EEG and PET analysis. The first task (D: Difficult) consisted of composing a mental story from words spanning several different semantic areas (e.g. to begin, glass, to want, roof, mountain, to keep silence), which was designed to induce subjects to give up stereotyped ways of thinking. The second task (E: Easy) consisted of composing a mental story from words from the same semantic area (e.g. school, to understand, task, to learn, lesson), which was considered to involve more stereotyped thinking than the first task. While the first and second tasks involved making a story out of as many of the listed words as possible, in any order, the third task (R: Reconstruction) consisted of making a mental story out of the listed words without changing their order (e.g. manager, to suggest, to call, boss, department, to demand, to make up, program), requiring less creativity than the previous two tasks. The final task (W: Word memorisation) consisted of simply memorizing a list of words in a mechanical fashion, a task that essentially comprised no creativity (Starchenko, Vorob'ev, Kliucharev, Bekhtereva, & Medevedev, 2000).

Bekhtereva, Dan'ko, Starchenko, Pakhomov and Medvedev (2001) analysed PET and EEG data associated with the four creative tasks among two separate samples of young volunteers, the latter consisting of both actor and non-actor subgroups. In regards to the EEG data only the results from the non-actor sub-group will be discussed. Differences in patterns of local cerebral blood flow (LCBF) between the various tasks were measured by means of PET while differences in the level of electrical activity was measured by means of EEG power, and the integration of brain areas between tasks was measured by means of EEG coherence. Results may be grouped according to the tasks compared. i) D-E Comparison. PET revealed that the difficult creative task employed the right frontal lobe more than the easy task. EEG power was found to be significantly lower at F7 and T4 during the difficult task, while no differences in EEG coherence were observed. ii) D-R Comparison. PET revealed that the difficult creative task employed the left frontal lobe and left parieto-occipital area more than the reconstruction task. EEG power was found to be significantly lower at F7, F8, T4, Pz, O1 and O2 during the difficult creative task. EEG coherence was found to increase bilaterally in the frontal areas, particularly in the left hemisphere during the difficult creative task. iii) D-W Comparison. PET revealed that the difficult creative task employed greater activation in bilateral frontal regions, particularly in the left hemisphere, and the left tempero-parietal-occipital regions in comparison to the word memorisation task, the activation was similar to the D-R comparison though slightly more extensive. EEG power was found to be significantly lower at F7, Fz, F4, F8, P3, Pz, O1 and O2 during the difficult creative task, while EEG coherence was found to be higher during the difficult creative task in bilateral frontal areas, and to a lesser extent the posterior areas. iv) E-R Comparison. PET revealed that the easy creative task employed the left frontal lobe and left parieto-occipital areas more than the reconstruction task, similar to the D-R comparison. EEG power was not found to be significantly different between tasks, while EEG coherence was found to be higher during the easy creative task in bilateral frontal areas, particularly in the left hemisphere. v) E-W Comparison. PET revealed that the easy creative task employed the bilateral frontal regions, particularly in the left hemisphere, and the tempro-parietal regions more than the word memorisation task, again similar to the D-W and D-R comparisons. EEG power was not found to be significantly different between tasks, while EEG coherence was found to be higher in frontal and to a lesser extent posterior areas in the easy creative task (a coherence pattern that was more diffuse and less frontally oriented than previous comparisons).

In summarising these findings, Bekhtereva et al. (2001) suggest that it is the frontal region of the left hemisphere which is involved to a greater extent in creative tasks in comparison to non-creative tasks, while the frontal region of the right hemisphere is required for creative tasks of increased difficulty in comparison to easier creative tasks. In commenting on the patterns found in EEG coherence, they note that an increase in coherence in frontal and anterior-frontal regions of the cortex appears to be particularly important in the solution of creative tasks, in particular an increase in inter-hemispheric coherence. This study is particularly powerful in that it uses converging lines of evidence from both PET and EEG data to arrive at similar conclusions regarding the importance of the frontal lobes in creative tasks.

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