Georgetown University team found you can literally zap creativity into your brain

Electrically stimulating the frontopolar cortex can enhance creativity, a new study from Georgetown University found.

Image credits aboutmodafinil.com (Creative Commons)

We tend to think of creativity as something you’re either born with or you’re not; that some people are just wired to be artists while others couldn’t paint to save their life. But this trait stems from your brain, and psychology professor Adam Green, Dr. Peter Turkeltaub from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and their team found that this organ can be coaxed into thinking more creatively.

“We found that the individuals who were most able to ramp up activity in a region at the far front of the brain, called the frontopolar cortex, were the ones most able to ramp up the creativity of the connections they formed,” Green explains. “Since ramping up activity in frontopolar cortex appeared to support a natural boost in creative thinking, we predicted that stimulating activity in this brain region would facilitate this boost, allowing people to reach higher creative heights.”

And it worked; by stimulating test subjects’ brains using tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) in combination with verbal cues, the participants could be made to think more creatively. Then the tDCS was focused on the frontopolar cortex, subjects formed more creative analogical connections between sets of words the researchers gave them to use. They also thought of more and more creative associations between these words.

“This work is a departure from traditional research that treats creativity as a static trait,” Green adds. “Instead, we focused on creativity as a dynamic state that can change quickly within an individual when they ‘put their thinking cap on.’ ”

“The findings of this study offer the new suggestion that giving individuals a “zap” of electrical stimulation can enhance the brain’s natural thinking cap boost in creativity,” he concludes.

The researchers write that their results offer “novel evidence” that tDCS can be used to enhance “conscious augmentation of creativity elicited by cognitive intervention” and extends the known boundaries of tDCS enhancement “to analogical reasoning, a form of creative intelligence that is a powerful engine for innovation.”

Dr. Turkletaub, a cognitive neurologist with the GMUC, hopes that their method of brain stimulation used in conjunction with verbal cues will one day be used to help people with brain disorders.

“People with speech and language difficulties often can’t find or produce the words they need,” he explains. “Enhancing creative analogical reasoning might allow them to find alternate ways of expressing their ideas using different words, gestures, or other approaches to convey a similar meaning.”

Electrical brain stimulation has also been shown to improve learning. Still, Turkeltaub and Green caution that while their results show promise, “it is important to be cautious about applications of tDCS.” This method’s full effects on brain function are still unknown, and experimental data gathered up to know needs further replication before researchers can safely apply it.

“Any effort to use electric current for stimulating the brain outside the laboratory or clinic could be dangerous and should be strongly discouraged,” Green cautioned.

The full paper, titled “Thinking Cap Plus Thinking Zap: tDCS of Frontopolar Cortex Improves Creative Analogical Reasoning and Facilitates Conscious Augmentation of State Creativity in Verb Generation” has been published online in the journal Cerebral Cortex and can be read here..

8 thoughts on “Georgetown University team found you can literally zap creativity into your brain

  1. Màire Ní Bhroin

    LOL…I guess that is why the genius Tesla loved letting volts of electricity run through his hands practically every day! But, more seriously, a poor woman I knew years ago, was a victim of too many electroshock treatments & her state was very akin to someone who has had a frontal lobotomy ie. very quiet, unfocussed & ‘spacy’. So, isn’t there an inherent danger in this studies conclusion? Since we now know electroshock therapy was & can be dangerous, so too, might be the idea of shocking the frontal lobes of the brain for enhanced creativity. This Georgetown University study is a very ‘Frankensteinian’ experiment indeed!

  2. Alan Byron

    Can you really draw a statistically reliable conclusion based on one woman? It is part of urban mythology that Electro Convulsive Therapy has some Frankenstein overtones. As a psychiatrist in the 70s I administered hundreds of ECTs to profoundly depressed and psychotically distressed patients with remarkable improvements, cures and no immediate and long term side effects. Important to look at the facts with the evidence before making unfounded assertions

  3. Màire Ní Bhroin

    Well Alan, I can base my comments not only on my own observations of this poor woman. I can safely point out that other studies have shown
    this, just "Google it" & you will find lots of evidence to contradict the blatant media hype about ECT's effectiveness. For instance, one recent research paper titled –
    'Electroconvulsive therapy reduces frontal cortical connectivity in severe depressive disorder' says it all, does it not? It found that the "dorsolateral prefrontal cortical region" which as you must know, is the same region impacted by a surgical lobotomy. A Dr. Breggin, reform psychiatrist, who wrote about the findings of this new research on The Blog, published in Huffpost, titled-'New Study Confirms Electroshock Treatment (ECT) Causes Brain Damage' written Apr.09,2012 says this part of the brain affected by ECT -"contains nerve trunks connecting the rest of the brain with the frontal lobes -"The seat of our capacity to be thoughtful, insightful, loving & creative"! The very qualities that indeed, define personhood, wouldn't you agree. So, in fact, my concerns are legitimate, despite misplaced media hype that ECT is wonderful treatment for depressed people or in this case, to increase creativity, unless of course the ultimate mandate is to lobotomize people hoping to increase creativity. As an artist, I find this approach dangerous, despite your own experience in making people "improved" & "cured". It does depend on your definition of "cured", I guess. If one loses the very qualities that make us human, with electroshock therapy treatment I question this study at Georgetown University & its' ethicality as well. If their research reduces the subjects, presumably students, at the hands of a misguided professor, to persons with no feelings nor ability to feel or to love & less creativity than they had originally, before volunteering to be "guinea pigs" for this program, then yes, please do spare us all from these ''Frankensteinian" (ie. playing God with innocent people) through experimentation with electricity, by this or any other university.

  4. Alan Byron

    Thank you so much for troubling to respond to me at length of your concerns. My experience with ECT was first hand so perhaps I am in a reasonably good place to make an observation. As Dale Carnegie said,' A reasoned argument never convinced anybody that they were wrong.' So I will leave it at that.

  5. Màire Ní Bhroin

    Your welcome Alan. I believe Dale Carnegie wisely said also – "Fear not but those who argue but those who dodge." & "The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure." Hopefully, as the aforementioned new research I mentioned earlier suggests, this wrong-headed experiment at Georgetown U. will not continue to go on perhaps to rob people of their humanity, creativity & ability to give, receive & feel that pleasure & ultimately their funding will be cut due to bad ethics & bad science.Peace!By the way are you related to poet, Lord Byron?:)

  6. Màire Ní Bhroin

    Wow, both the reincarnation & a descendant, quite a distinction in your lineage. Might I politely ask what is this easily contested evidence or perhaps that is too personal? Nonetheless, I see you're a poet & did know it.LOL Have a nice day! :)

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