How Your Brain Creates Something New, by Julia Jones PhD (aka Dr Rock)

Creativity requires multiple brain circuits, in both left and right hemispheres, to work together. It’s now generally acknowledged that three key networks of neurons are particularly influential in the process of generating original ideas. This activity is clearly evident in brain scans. Unlike some other neural activations (e.g. neurons in our motor cortex instructing a skeletal muscle to contract to move a limb) it’s much more difficult to call upon these creative neuronal networks on demand. As all creatives know, simply going to a studio does not guarantee that creativity will magically materialise. However, there are things we can do to increase the likelihood of achieving this creative brain state. 

Firstly, get to know the brain networks that influence your creativity. Research suggests that individuals who have stronger functional connectivity between these three key networks below tend to be able to produce highly creative and original ideas.

  1. Your default mode network connects neurons in multiple brain regions. This network, including the hippocampus (your memory boss), is the key player in mind-wandering, recalling past experiences and imagining future novel experiences. 
  2. Your executive control network features parts of your frontal lobe responsible for deliberate, focused work. Typically, when the control network is activated, the default network (mind-wandering mode) is deactivated. However, studies have shown that creative people are perhaps more able to easily co-activate both networks together. 
  3. Your salience network of neurons determines what stimulus you should focus your attention on. It helps you to feel motivated and switch from internal reflection to engaging with the external world. The salience network acts as a switch, filtering information from multiple regions and assisting in the activation of the default network or control network as appropriate.