13.4.06

Arousal and Creativity

> Do you want to be creative? I've read this terrific technique to increase creativity!

>> Oh really? So you just happen to stumble on something that can revolutionize the field of creativity research, huh? Although I am extremely doubtful on this, let's hear it then.

> In this article from Martindale, he presents several research results that imply an inverse relationship between cortical arousal and degree of creativity. In other words, as the level of arousal increases, there is a degradation of creativity. This would also mean that if the level of arousal decreases, there should also be a corresponding improvement in creativity.

>> That is plausible, although the relationship is not strictly inverted.

An inverse relationship graph would appear like this:












The theoretical interpretation of the arousal continuum as related to learning and performance is generally viewed as an inverted-u, which would appear like this:

With the level of arousal being the vertical axis and task complexity the horizontal axis.



However, if we disregard the simple tasks and focus only on the medium to complex (or the right-hand-side of the graph), then the inverse relationship is indeed present. Anyway, what is it you are trying to tell me?

> So if arousal is inversely proportional to creativity, several theorists such as Schultz suggested that it might be possible to increase creativity by decreasing the levels of arousal. In fact, there were creative people such as Schiller and Proust that exhibited behaviors that can only be described as sensory deprivation -- Proust locks himself up in sound-retardant rooms and Schiller numbs his feet with ice water.

>> I can see where you are leading this. Are you suggesting therefore that sensory deprivation is the way to go to increase creativity? That we should just anesthetize ourselves whenever we need those "aha!" moments?

> That might be going a bit too far. I only intended to suggest minimizing unnecessary external stimuli when one is engaged in an activity where creativity is important. That is, trying to write poetry while the TV is on and your lasagna is in the middle of its culinary process might not result in a masterpiece – for both the poem and the lasagna.

>> You are making sense. But even if you are suggesting sensory deprivation for the sake of creativity, I would still not consider that going too far given your impulsive nature. The implications from brain scan research that I am about to tell you should really blow your mind.

> Get on with it then.

>> It has been hypothesized by Haier that synaptic pruning, where synaptic connections per neuron decrease after a certain age, can have a positive effect by making the brain more efficient by removing its redundant neural connections. Of course, an excessive form of synaptic pruning can lead to brain damage. However, there must be an optimal number of synaptic connections that can be removed to result in an optimal brain performance.

> That's amazing!! Do you want to volunteer for an experiment in controlled prefrontal lobotomy? We can arrange for your synapses to be systematically destroyed by lasers while continuously monitoring your brain functions. The lasers will stop the moment you reach the optimal brain performance!

>> I will pretend that you are not enjoying that sarcastic suggestion. The only positive thing with that stupid suggestion though is it anticipated the next research results that I was about to tell you. You see, Martindale and Eysenck are implying that creative people have decreased levels of frontal-lobe activation. This is because, according to them, the frontal lobes are responsible for cognitive inhibition and creativity is stifled by inhibition. Thus, creative people tend to be less inhibited, and so if areas of the brain that are responsible for cognitive inhibition can somehow be restricted, creativity should flourish.

> Ha! As you have admitted, my suggestions are not all nonsense. In fact, as a more practical application, this would mean that one is more creative when one is less inhibited and inhibition can be reduced by methods less drastic than prefrontal lobotomy. Alcohol can do the job. Now, all we have to do is find the "optimal" level.

>> And that, I’m sure, is an experiment that you would be more than happy to volunteer!

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