Los Angeles: The findings of the study were published in the journal, ‘Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts’.
Exceptionally creative visual artists and scientists — called “Big C” creative types — volunteered to undergo functional MRI brain imaging, giving researchers in psychiatry, behavioural sciences and psychology a look at how regions of the brain connected and interacted when called upon to perform tasks that put creative thinking to the test.
“Our results showed that highly creative people had unique brain connectivity that tended to stay off the beaten path,” said Ariana Anderson, a professor and statistician at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, the lead author of the study.
Although the concept of creativity has been studied for decades, little is known about its biological bases, and even less is understood about the brain mechanisms of exceptionally creative people, said senior author Robert Bilder, director of the Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity at the Semel Institute.
This uniquely designed study included highly creative people representing two different domains of creativity — visual arts and the sciences — and used an IQ-matched comparison group to identify markers of creativity, not just intelligence. The researchers analyzed how connections were made between brain regions globally and locally.
“Exceptional creativity was associated with more random connectivity at the global scale — a pattern that is less ‘efficient’ but would appear helpful in linking distant brain nodes to each other,” Bilder said.
“The patterns in more local brain regions varied, depending on whether people were performing tasks. Surprisingly, Big C creatives had more efficient local processing at rest, but less efficient local connectivity when performing a task demanding ‘thinking outside the box,” he added.
Using airline route maps for comparison, the researchers said the Big C creatives’ brain activity is akin to skipping flights to connecting hubs to get to a small city.
“In terms of brain connectivity, while everyone else is stuck in a three-hour layover at a major airport, the high creatives take private planes directly to a distant destination,” Anderson said.
“This more random connectivity may be less efficient much of the time, but the architecture enables brain activity to ‘take a road less travelled’ and make novel connections,” she added.
Bilder, who has more than 30 years of experience researching brain-behaviour relations, said, “The fact that Big C people had more efficient local brain connectivity, but only under certain conditions, may relate to their expertise. Consistent with some of our prior findings, they may not need to work as hard as other smart people to perform certain creative tasks.”