Where does creativity exist within the brain?
If you’re like most people, you probably grew up being taught that the right hemisphere of the brain is where creativity and subjects like art primarily reside.
This is a common fallacy, one which is important to understand if we’re to better understand how we can be more creative (or what might be blocking us from doing so).
The common fallacy of creativity being a predominantly right-brained activity originally stemmed from historical studies of the brain’s anatomy and how different parts of the brain control different, distinct physical reactions.
Writing is primarily believed to be a left-brain activity, whereas music awareness is believed to be managed by the right side of the brain. Damage critical parts of the left side of your brain and you’ll not only be unable to control your right hand, you’ll have difficulty trying to write anything at all. Or damage the right side of your brain and you’ll struggle to use your left hand, as well as to comprehend the various sounds and melodies that make up music.
Because intuition and imagination are believed to be primarily managed by the right hemisphere of the brain, a common misconception has shaped around that theory: we believe that creativity itself resides in the right side of the brain.
And yet, asking whether or not creativity belongs to the left or right side of the brain is like asking what flavor yellow is. Or how long short is. Or why the sky isn’t a sound.
Creativity doesn’t belong to any single part or region of the brain. It’s not an act or trait that can be associated with any particular part or region, and it’s certainly not an artistic endeavor to begin with.
Instead, creativity is the result of different sections of the brain interacting with one another in order to generate novel patterns through the use of existing ideas or concepts.
As Bradley Voytek, cognitive scientists at the University of California, San Diego, puts it:
“Imagine asking ‘where is video located in my computer?’ That doesn’t make any sense. Your monitor is required to see the video. Your graphics card is required to render the video. The software is required to generate the code for the video. But the 'video’ isn’t located anywhere in the computer.”
The same concept goes for creativity.
Creativity doesn’t exist in any one place of your brain, but instead exists as a function or many different parts of your brain working together to develop understanding or to create new concepts.
Everything from our short-term memory and the types of memory encodings our frontal lobes, temporal lobe, and thalamus deal with, to the way we interpret and emotionally respond to stimulation and memories in the amygdala, then mash it all together in various parts of the cortex and the hippocampus. There is a science to creativity in the brain, but it’s a complex one to say the least.
What we can be sure of is that creativity—the mental capacity to generate novel and useful ideas—doesn’t belong to any one part or region of the brain, nor does any set of networks within the brain belong to a creative process.
The reality is that creativity is the result of many different parts of our brain working together to shape and understand mental constructs as they relate to the real world.
Doodling or writing in a notebook might utilize many of the parts of your brain that reside in the left hemisphere, but trying to figure out how you might draw or write your way out of a complex, creative puzzle is going to also require logical thinking, short-term memory, and even subsets of mathematical skills.
Why does this matter? Because not only does creativity exists as a result of interactions within the brain, but also within your entire body.
The neural networks that make up you reach all the way from the top of your brain, down to your fingers and toes. It’s through this vast neural network that we, of course, shape our experiences, knowledge, and beliefs.
Therefore, the sensation of touch, sight, smell, sound, or hearing something can spark new ideas just as much as sitting and trying to think of them can.
Creativity exists within the experiences we have and the way we interpret and seek to understand them. If you want to find ways to be more creative, experience things that will activate different parts of your mind or body. Like writing about how the color blue tastes, traveling to the end of sound, or simply trying something new and different.