Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category


Results imply creative people are 25% more likely to carry genes that raise risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But others argue the evidence is flimsy.

The ancient Greeks were first to make the point. Shakespeare raised the prospect too. But Lord Byron was, perhaps, the most direct of them all: “We of the craft are all crazy,” he told the Countess of Blessington, casting a wary eye over his fellow poets.

The notion of the tortured artist is a stubborn meme. Creativity, it states, is fuelled by the demons that artists wrestle in their darkest hours. The idea is fanciful to many scientists. But a new study claims the link may be well-founded after all, and written into the twisted molecules of our DNA.

In a large study published on Monday, scientists in Iceland report that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions. Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variants than professions the scientists judged to be less creative, among which were farmers, manual labourers and salespeople.

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings, described in the journal Nature Neuroscience, point to a common biology for some mental disorders and creativity. “To be creative, you have to think differently,” he told the Guardian. “And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.”

The scientists drew on genetic and medical information from 86,000 Icelanders to find genetic variants that doubled the average risk of schizophrenia, and raised the risk of bipolar disorder by more than a third. When they looked at how common these variants were in members of national arts societies, they found a 17% increase compared with non-members.

The researchers went on to check their findings in large medical databases held in the Netherlands and Sweden. Among these 35,000 people, those deemed to be creative (by profession or through answers to a questionnaire) were nearly 25% more likely to carry the mental disorder variants.

Stefansson believes that scores of genes increase the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These may alter the ways in which many people think, but in most people do nothing very harmful. But for 1% of the population, genetic factors, life experiences and other influences can culminate in problems, and a diagnosis of mental illness.

“Often, when people are creating something new, they end up straddling between sanity and insanity,” said Stefansson. “I think these results support the old concept of the mad genius. Creativity is a quality that has given us Mozart, Bach, Van Gogh. It’s a quality that is very important for our society. But it comes at a risk to the individual, and 1% of the population pays the price for it.”

Stefansson concedes that his study found only a weak link between the genetic variants for mental illness and creativity. And it is this that other scientists pick up on. The genetic factors that raise the risk of mental problems explained only about 0.25% of the variation in peoples’ artistic ability, the study found. David Cutler, a geneticist at Emory University in Atlanta, puts that number in perspective: “If the distance between me, the least artistic person you are going to meet, and an actual artist is one mile, these variants appear to collectively explain 13 feet of the distance,” he said.

Most of the artist’s creative flair, then, is down to different genetic factors, or to other influences altogether, such as life experiences, that set them on their creative journey.

For Stefansson, even a small overlap between the biology of mental illness and creativity is fascinating. “It means that a lot of the good things we get in life, through creativity, come at a price. It tells me that when it comes to our biology, we have to understand that everything is in some way good and in some way bad,” he said.

But Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University is not convinced. He believes that there is no good evidence for a link between mental illness and creativity. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. “But take Van Gogh. He just happened to be mentally ill as well as creative. For me, the reverse is more interesting: creative people are generally not mentally ill, but they use thought processes that are of course creative and different.”

If Van Gogh’s illness was a blessing, the artist certainly failed to see it that way. In one of his last letters, he voiced his dismay at the disorder he fought for so much of his life: “Oh, if I could have worked without this accursed disease – what things I might have done.”

In 2014, Rothernberg published a book, “Flight of Wonder: an investigation of scientific creativity”, in which he interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates about their creative strategies. He found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects that studies which find links between creativity and mental illness might be picking up on something rather different.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative. Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature, does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people who have mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data,” he said. “Nearly all mental hospitals use art therapy, and so when patients come out, many are attracted to artistic positions and artistic pursuits.”

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/08/new-study-claims-to-find-genetic-link-between-creativity-and-mental-illness

Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.

According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming — we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind — and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

They ask the big questions.
Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.

They lose track of the time.
Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.

“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

A study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

They connect the dots.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where other don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.

In the words of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/creativity-habits_n_4859769.html

Severe-Workplace-Clutter

Here’s a toast to the slob in the office, the gal with so much junk on her desk she can’t find her telephone. All that clutter may be part of the reason she is so creative.

For years, we’ve been told that piles of personal rubbish have got to be a liability. Now there’s a flip side to that theorem.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota decided to take a look at a long-established principle of human honesty and productivity — keep your work area clean and you will be more likely to work your tail off, stay honest, be generous with your coworkers, and on and on.

Cleanliness, after all, is next to godliness.

“We were thinking about doing a paper showing how being tidy makes people kind of do the right thing,” psychologist Kathleen Vohs, lead author of a study in the journal Psychological Science, said in a telephone interview. “And then we started challenging ourselves. Is there anything that goes along with a messy environment that could be good?”

So Vohs and her co-workers conducted a series of experiments in Holland and the United States to see if there’s an up-side to untidiness. The finding, she said, surprised even the researchers.

A messy work environment, the research suggested, can bring out a person’s creativity and lead to the birth of bold, new ideas. In other words, a less- than-perfect work environment can make a person more likely to think out of the box, or at least above the horizon of those neat people in the office.

That doesn’t mean you can set a nitwit in front of a cluttered desk and end up with another Einstein, who is said to have muttered these immortal words: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Numerous historic photos of Einstein’s office show he was no neat freak.

No amount of clutter is going to make an empty brain creative, but this research indicates that a little clutter may bring out the freshest and most creative side of you.

“The environment doesn’t create something that isn’t already there,” Vohs said. “To the extent that you are creative, it pulls it out of you.”

Not a lot of researchers have taken up the banner of messy desks, so there’s not much to compare this work with, but the research involved a large number of participants, both young and old, and it led to these conclusions:

Sociology’s “broken windows theory” is not entirely accurate. According to Vohs’ study, that theory “posits that minor signs of disorder can cause much bigger consequences, such as delinquency and criminality.” But her research suggested a less-pristine environment can leave persons free to turn to creativity instead of crime.

“Orderly environments would encourage adherence to social convention and overall conservatism, whereas disorderly environments would encourage people to seek novelty and unconventional routes.”

“Our findings imply that varying the environment can be an effective way to shape behavior.”

Those findings resulted from three experiments in which participants were assigned tasks while seated in a neat, orderly office, or in an office that was identical in every way except it was filled with clutter, such as papers on the floor and stacks of files on the desk.

Thirty-four Dutch students were tested to see if the orderliness of the room had any effect on their generosity and sense of needing to do the right thing. At the end of the experiment, for example, the students were asked to contribute to a worthy cause.

Some 82 percent of the students in the orderly room contributed money, compared to only 47 percent in the disorderly room.

As they left the room, they were offered a treat, either an apple or a piece of candy. Participants from the orderly room were more than three times as likely to take the apple. Moral: orderliness brought out a need do the right thing.

In a second experiment, participants were told to come up with new uses for ping-pong balls to help a manufacturer.

“Participants in the disorderly room generated more highly creative ideas than did participants in the orderly room,” the study said.

In the final experiment, 188 American adults were asked to pick from a list of new options to be added to a restaurant’s menu. Participants from the orderly room were far more likely to pick a healthy option than were participants from a disorderly room.

The researchers described the findings as “robust,” meaning there was little question that the environment directly influenced the behavior of the participants.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” the researchers concluded. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

Something good can come from either setting, Vohs said. A tidy workplace may help people walk a straight line. A messy desk may help them figure out a new way to keep from walking at all.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/tidy-messy-environment-impact-decisions-behavior-study/story?id=19909678

 The warmer orange colors show parts of the brain most active during improvisational rap. The blue regions are most active when rappers performed a memorized piece.

Some rappers have an impressive ability to make up lyrics on the fly, in a style known as freestyle rap.

These performers have a lot in common with jazz musicians, it turns out.

Scientists have found artists in both genres are using their brains in similar ways when they improvise.

A group of jazz pianists had their heads examined in a 2008 PLOS One study, which subjected the musicians to functional magnetic resonance imaging scans. These scans highlight areas of brain activity.

When riffing on a tune instead of playing a memorized composition, the musicians had lower activity in a part of the frontal brain that is thought to be responsible for planning and greater activity in another part of the frontal brain believed to motivate thought and action.

After hearing about the jazz study, Los Angeles rappers Michael Eagle and Daniel Rizik-Baer contacted one of the researchers, Allen Braun, chief of the voice, speech and language branch of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Eagle and Rizik-Baer proposed a similar study on freestyle rap.

Soon Braun’s colleague Siyuan Liu at NIDCD put together a team, which included the two rappers, to determine what was happening inside these performers’ brains.

In their study, published today in Scientific Reports, five professional rappers were given a set of lyrics to memorize. A week later each was put inside an MRI machine to put on his performance.

“It’s not a very natural environment, that’s for sure,” notes Braun, a co-author on the latest study. “It’s noisy and you have to lie on your back. And you need to stay still.”

The clinical setting may not have been the normal setting for the rappers, but they had little difficulty performing on cue. Each would perform the preset rap, and then they would switch to improvising to the same music track.

“By comparing the two, we could see the neural activity associated with freestyle rap,” Braun says.

When Liu and the other researchers examined the fMRI data, they found that, like the jazz musicians, the rappers’ brains were paying less conscious attention to what was going on but had strong action in the area that motivates action and thought.

“Unlike the jazz study, these changes were very strongly associated with the left hemisphere of the brain,” Braun says. That’s the half of the brain where, for most right-handed people, language is processed.

The team also found a network of connections in the performers’ brains during the freestyle raps, linking parts of the brain responsible for motivation, language, action and emotion.

And raps that were rated as more innovative correlated with more activity in the region of the brain that stores words. It’s not surprising, says Braun, “that the more creative the rap, the more they’re tapping the lexicon.”

The study is part of a larger body of research that is hoping to determine what is happening inside the brain during the creative process. Braun says that he’d like to know more about what happens in the next phase of creativity, revision. He has recruited a group of poets for that study.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/11/14/165145967/a-peek-inside-rappers-brains-shows-roots-of-improvisation?sc=emaf

Thanks to Dr. Nakamura for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.