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Published:March 18th, 2013 09:56 EST

Suppressing a Certain Area of the Brain Leads to Better Creativity

By John Pustelnik

Researchers have discovered that by suppressing a certain part of the human brain, people do better at creative tasks.

The area that was suppressed during the experiment was the prefrontal cortex.


The prefrontal cortex is an area in the very front of the brain that is associated with things such as abstract thought, decision making, and regulation/filtering of other parts of the brain. It allows people to focus on a single task. The left prefrontal cortex is associated with cognitive thought as well.

Researchers were able to inhibit the left prefrontal cortex by running a weak electrical charge through it.

Participants were then shown a series of pictures and asked to come up with a novel use for them. An example could be using a power cord as a belt, or a baseball bat as a rolling pin.

"When we use objects in daily life, our cognitive control helps us focus on what the object is typically used for and `filters out` irrelevant properties," said Evangelia Chrysikou, one of the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. "However, to come up with the idea of using a baseball bat as a rolling pin, you have to consider things like its shape and the material it`s made of."

Participants whose left prefrontal cortex was not inhibited could not come up with uncommon uses for the items on average 15 times out of 60. Participants whose left prefrontal cortex was inhibited could not come up with uncommon uses for the items on average 8 out of 60 times. Participants whose left prefrontal cortex was inhibited were also able to come up with ideas by an average of a second faster.

"A second faster difference is huge in psychology research. We`re used to seeing differences measured in milliseconds," said Sharon Thompson-Schill, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. This is probably the biggest effect I`ve seen over my 20 years in research."

The prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until a person is in their early 20`s. This could possibly relate to children doing better at creativity-related tasks than adults.

"The real takeaway," Thompson-Schill said, "is that when you give people a task for which they do not know the goal -- such as showing them an object and asking, `What else can you do with this thing` -- anything that they would normally do to filter out irrelevant information about the object will hurt their ability to do the task."

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