Creativity is not Localized in the Brain

If you’ve read the chapter on brain imaging in my book Explaining Creativity, you’ll know that the technology has limitations. Specifically: There’s no way to use this research to claim that creativity is located in a particular part of the brain. To their credit, the researchers who do this work would never say that. However, the media tend to hear about these cautious and limited findings, and publish articles with titles like “Now we know where creativity is!”

A new article in The Economist describes these limitations:

The technology has its critics. Many worry that dramatic conclusions are being drawn from small samples (the faff involved in fMRI makes large studies hard). Others fret about over-interpreting the tiny changes the technique picks up. A deliberately provocative paper published in 2009, for example, found apparent activity in the brain of a dead salmon.

The Economist article is about a new study that identifies a serious problem with fMRI methodology. The new study’s findings suggest that the statistics programs that interpret the fMRI results are “seriously flawed.” (And there’s a lot of statistics involved; take a look at my chapter for a quick summary.) The researchers used these fMRI algorithms to compare 499 subjects who were lying in the scanner while not thinking about anything in particular. With the standard fMRI statistical software, they divided this subject pool in half in 3 million different ways, and did comparisons each time. There shouldn’t have been any findings at all. But in fact, 70 percent of the 3 million comparisons resulted in false positives. That means, in 70 percent of these comparisons, there was a statistically significant finding of elevated brain activity, in half of the 499 subjects, in some part of the brain.

Because this study was just published, we can’t yet be sure what it really means. But my advice is: Be skeptical if you read an article claiming that creativity is located in a particular brain region. Creativity is a function of the entire brain, working together.

2 thoughts on “Creativity is not Localized in the Brain

  1. Hello Keith

    40 years ago when I first began reading creativity articles, general to extensive research, Sperry & Bogan’s work with 9 people suffering from epilepsy were all over most media.

    Immediately we had

    RIGHT BRAIN – LEFT BRAIN

    articles and books by the hundreds if not thousands

    They continued on for decades.

    At the same time were reports, articles and some books contradicting the BRAIN CLAIMS.

    still 40 years later the arguments continue.

    Oh well.

    Thanks for sharing this reference to the recent Economist article.

    *Alan* *2016 – Develop Your Skills & Knowledge of* *Leading – Communicating – Teaming – C,r,E,8,N,G!*

    Robert *Alan *Black, Ph.D., CSP, DLA, TM: AC-Gold http://www.cre8ng.com alan@cre8ng.com 706 353 3387 *GOOGLE+ posts* https://plus.google.com/u/0/s/robert%20alan%20black

    *My Angels & My Demons*

    On Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 10:32 AM, The Creativity Guru wrote:

    > keithsawyer posted: “If you’ve read the chapter on brain imaging in my > book Explaining Creativity, you’ll know that the technology has > limitations. Specifically: There’s no way to use this research to claim > that creativity is located in a particular part of the brain. To thei” >

    1. That right-brain/left-brain research was debunked a very long time ago. You’re right, it started with the split-brain research by Sperry and then it was popularized by Ornstein’s 1972 book _The Psychology of Consciousness_. I summarize the history of this myth in my book EXPLAINING CREATIVITY.

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