Creativity is an important and essential human ability. Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. John Kounios of Drexel University, with funding from the National Science Foundation, is investigating the brain mechanisms that enable creative problem solving, especially those underlying what psychologists call "insight," colloquially known as the "Aha" or "Eureka" phenomenon. This project investigates three questions. What is the relationship between "resting-state" brain activity, that is, brain activity when a person daydreams with no task to perform, and the experience of insight during a later test? Can samples of such resting-state brain activity be used to identify brain states that lead to insightful problem solving and individuals who tend to solve problems creatively? What environmental or contextual factors can influence such brain states to enhance creative thought? The investigator hypothesizes that there is a relationship between brain activity during daydreaming and later creative performance during problem solving and other tasks. This relationship can be used to develop a brain-based test of creative ability and can be used to identify target brain states for future training protocols for increasing creativity. In one study, the investigator is recording participants' electroencephalograms (EEGs) during multiple sessions on different days and measuring participants' creative problem-solving performance to examine whether differences in brain activity among individuals are associated with higher and lower creativity. Other studies modify brain activity by giving participants different kinds of cognitive tasks to perform; these brain-activity changes are expected to influence later problem-solving performance and other measures of creative thought, in some cases, enhancing creativity.
What are the origins of creative thought? This question is not merely academic. Economic success depends on flexible, creative thought and the innovation it empowers. Widespread concerns about waning innovation, fueled by recent research showing that creativity-test scores in the U.S. are decreasing, have brought to the forefront questions concerning the nature of creativity, and how it can be enhanced. Educational, business, and government organizations have focused on enhancing creativity, often without realizing that psychological and neuroscience research has begun to yield evidence concerning which strategies are effective for improving creativity and which are not. In particular, cognitive neuroscience, through new, advanced methods for measuring brain activity, has begun to focus on the topic of creativity, especially the phenomenon of sudden insight, a process that suddenly confers a new perspective or solution to a problem through an "Aha moment." The current NSF-funded project is isolating and analyzing brain states conducive to creative insight and investigating techniques for enhancing creativity by facilitating these brain states.