Link found between brain structures and creativity

Creativity continues to keep us curious. How does it happen? Are their catalysts that provoke the creative spirit? Some might argue that creativity is a result of necessity of survival. In other words, we become creative when we are in search for new and better ways of living. We look outside our norms to find solutions to our problems, only after experiencing pain.

Investigators at Stanford University have found a link between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in the cerebellum, a structure located in the back of the brain and more typically thought of as the body’s movement-coordination center.


Investigators at Stanford University have found a surprising link between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in the cerebellum, a structure located in the back of the brain and more typically thought of as the body’s movement-coordination center.

In designing the study, the researchers drew inspiration from the game Pictionary.

The cerebellum, traditionally viewed as the brain’s practice-makes-perfect, movement-control center, hasn’t been previously recognized as critical to creativity. The new study, a collaboration between the School of Medicine and Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the, is the first to find direct evidence that this brain region is involved in the creative process.

“Our findings represent an advance in our knowledge of the brain-based physiology of creativity,” said the study’s senior author, Allan Reiss, MD, professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

The study, to be published May 28 in Scientific Reports, also suggests that shifting the brain’s higher-level, executive-control centers into higher gear impairs, rather than enhances, creativity.

“We found that activation of the brain’s executive-control centers — the parts of the brain that enable you to plan, organize and manage your activities — is negatively associated with creative task performance,” said Reiss, who holds the Howard C. Robbins Professorship in Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences.

“Creativity is an incredibly valued human attribute in every single human endeavor, be it work or play,” he continued. “In art, science and business, creativity is the engine that drives progress. As a practicing psychiatrist, I even see its importance to interpersonal relationships. People who can think creatively and flexibly frequently have the best outcomes.”

The collaboration began about 3 ½ years ago when Grace Hawthorne, MFA, MBA, a consulting associate professor at the who teaches a design-thinking skills course called “Creative Gym,” and one of her students approached Reiss, who has previously studied humor and other higher-level cognitive functions. They asked if he could objectively measure creativity, the better to confirm that Hawthorne’s course can enhance it.

“We didn’t know that much about how to do that,” Reiss said. “So we decided to design a study that would give us baseline information on creativity’s underlying neurophysiological processes.”

How do you measure creativity?

As much as creativity may be in demand, it’s not so easy to measure. At least 25 or 30 previous studies, mostly of professionally creative people such as jazz musicians and Emmy Award winners, have tried to look at neural correlates of creativity, said the study’s lead author, Manish Saggar, PhD, an instructor in psychiatry and a member of the teaching team at the

“Everybody wants to think creatively,” Saggar said. “But how do you get somebody to actually do that on command? Forcing people to think creatively may actually hamper creativity.”

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that subjects’ brain processes are monitored while they’re confined inside a dark, cramped MRI chamber. This environment is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking about places where creativity can flower, Saggar said.

“Creativity has to be measured in a fun environment,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re bound to have anxiety and performance issues.”

Saggar came up with the idea of borrowing an approach from Pictionary, a game in which players try to convey a word through drawing to help their teammates guess what the word is. He selected action words like “vote,” “exhaust” and “salute.” Then he, Reiss and their colleagues serially tested 14 men and 16 women in an MRI chamber, recording activity throughout their brains via functional MRI scans while they drew either a word or, for comparison, a zigzag line, which required initiation and fine-motor control but not much creativity. Participants were given 30 seconds per word, long enough for a decent scan but short enough to elicit spontaneous improvisation and stave off boredom.

“We didn’t tell anyone, ‘Be creative!’ We just told them, ‘Draw the word,'” Reiss said.

The drawings were captured on a special MRI-safe electronic tablet designed by study co-author Robert Dougherty, PhD, research director at the Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging. The drawings were then sent to Hawthorne and Adam Royalty, a researcher at the and co-author of the study. Hawthorne and Royalty separately rated the drawings on five-point scales of appropriateness — did it depict what it was supposed to? — and creativity — how many elements were in the drawing? How elaborate was it? How original?

When they emerged from the MRI chamber, subjects were asked to rate the words they’d been asked to draw for relative difficulty. Increasing subjective difficulty of drawing a word correlated with increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an executive-function center involved in attention and evaluation. But high creativity scores later assigned by the raters were associated with low activity in the executive-function center. Higher creativity scores were associated with higher activation in the cerebellum.

On analysis, a number of brain areas were more active when subjects were engaged in drawing words than when they were drawing zigzag lines. Peak activation occurred in the cerebellum and regions of the cortex known to be involved in coordinating motor control or acting as a visual sketchpad. The latter regions’ involvement in detailed drawing wasn’t particularly surprising.

‘The more you think about it, the more you mess it up’

But the heightened activity in the cerebellum was unexpected, as was its association with high creativity scores subsequently assigned by the raters. In monkeys, this brain region has been found to be especially active in learning and practicing new movements.

But those monkey findings may have thrown researchers off, Saggar said. Newer studies show that, unlike the monkey cerebellum, the human cerebellum has robust connections not only to the motor cortex, the brain’s higher movement-control center, but to the other parts of the cortex as well.

“Anatomical and, now, functional evidence point to the cerebellum as doing much more than simply coordination of movement,” Saggar said.

He and his colleagues speculate that the cerebellum may be able to model all new types of behavior as the more frontally located cortical regions make initial attempts to acquire those behaviors. The cerebellum then takes over and, in an iterative and subconscious manner, perfects the behavior, relieving the cortical areas of that burden and freeing them up for new challenges.

“It’s likely that the cerebellum is the coordination center for the rest of brain, allowing other regions to be more efficient,” said Reiss.

“As our study also shows, sometimes a deliberate attempt to be creative may not be the best way to optimize your creativity,” he said. “While greater effort to produce creative outcomes involves more activity of executive-control regions, you actually may have to reduce activity in those regions in order to achieve creative outcomes.”

Saggar put it more bluntly. “The more you think about it, the more you mess it up,” he said.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Stanford University Medical Center. The original item was written by Bruce Goldman. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Manish Saggar, Eve-Marie Quintin, Eliza Kienitz, Nicholas T. Bott, Zhaochun Sun, Wei-Chen Hong, Yin-hsuan Chien, Ning Liu, Robert F. Dougherty, Adam Royalty, Grace Hawthorne & Allan L. Reiss. Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativityScientific Reports, May 2015 DOI: 10.1038/srep10894

This physicist plays guitar -what he discovers is astounding ! 

Have you ever wondered if there is something that separates master musicians ? And if so , is there a science to what they’re doing ? Well, there may not be a secret code but, there is science to how master musicians have cultivated their technique and art form. Over time a musician will take trial and error towards finding the path of least resistance to the sound they wish to create. As a result , amazing unseen proccesses are constructed as to support the music the musician wishes to create.

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist’s sound, whether it’s Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

Now guitarist and physicist Dr David Robert Grimes has described the physics underlying these techniques in the journal PLOS ONE.
‘Very good guitarists will manipulate the strings to make the instrument sing,’ explains Dr Grimes. ‘On a piano, you’ve got the 12 chromatic notes in a scale. On a guitar, you can bend the strings to get the notes in between. I wanted to understand what it was about these guitar techniques that allows you to manipulate pitch.’
Dr Grimes is a postdoctoral researcher in Oxford University’s Department of Oncology, and normally spends his time working on mathematical models of oxygen distribution in order to improve radiotherapy in the treatment of cancer.
But he is also a keen guitarist, and has been a session musician and member of a band in Dublin in the past. In spare time at his previous position at Dublin City University and now at Oxford University, he worked out the physics behind the instinctive playing of the best guitarists.
Dr Grimes derived equations describing how string bending, vibrato and whammy bars change the pitch of a note. He found that the properties of the strings had a big effect on the change in pitch — in particular the Young’s modulus (a measure of how much the string stretches under force) and how thick the strings are.
He also worked out how easy hammer-ons and pull-offs are, depending on the height of the guitar strings above the finger board.
Finally, he confirmed the equation for string bends experimentally, measuring the frequency of the sound produced for strings bent through different angles on a guitar.
Dr Grimes says: ‘I took one of my oldest guitars down to the engineering lab at Dublin City University to one of the people I knew there and explained that I wanted to strip it down to do this experiment. We had to accurately bend the strings to different extents and measure the frequency produced. He was a musician too and looked at me with abject horror. But we both knew it needed to be done — We put some nails into my guitar for science.’
The physics of vibrating strings and string instruments has been long understood. But no one has previously worked out how effects like bending the string change the pitch of the sound. Nor how this depends on the tension of the string, the force applied, and the angle through which it is bent.
‘It turns out it’s actually reasonably straightforward,’ says Dr Grimes. ‘It’s an experiment a decent physics undergraduate could do, and a cool way of studying some basic physics principles. It’s also potentially useful to string manufacturers and digital instrument modellers.’
As for Dr Grimes’ guitar heros? He says: ‘Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd has the most amazing bend control. And Steve Vai is the kind of guy you hate for his sheer talent.’ But it was perhaps another physicist and guitarist who inspired him to play in the first place: ‘I think the only person I ever wrote fan mail to was Brian May of Queen — He was one of the reasons I got into playing music. It’s still one of my life’s ambitions to have a conversation with Brian May.’


What plants and violins of in common: You might be surprised!

There is no arguing that we take inspiration from nature. In biomimicry we mimic the way nature works in order to better facility and enable the use of technological advances. We look to nature to provide us with best practices and procedures so that we can gain benefit from the flow that nature showcases. When it comes to musical instruments, however, we don’t typically think of their design mimicking something in nature. Yet scientist have found a unique link between the shape of the violin and plants. The findings are very interesting and insightful.

This is a mosaic of a violin comprised of over 5,000 violin images derived from the 9,000 photographs used in this study. Credit: Dan Chitwood; CC-BY

“There are many parallels between leaves and violins,” says Dan Chitwood, Ph.D., assistant member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. “Both have beautiful shapes that are potentially functional, change over time, or result from mimicry. Shape is information that can tell us a story. Just as evolutionary changes in leaf shape inform us about mechanisms that ultimately determine plant morphology, the analysis of cultural innovations, such as violins, gives us a glimpse into the historical forces shaping our lives and creativity.”

As a plant biologist, Chitwood spends most of his time exploring genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying diversity in plant morphology, or in layman’s terms, understanding how leaf shapes are formed and what that means for a plant to grow and thrive. He also studies how leaf shapes change as plant species evolve to adapt in different environments. Research into why a desert-adapted tomato species can survive with little water, for example, sheds light on how leaf architecture affects the efficiency of plant water use.

Chitwood’s research involves the tools of “morphometrics,” which can be used to quantify traits of evolutionary significance. Changes in shape over time provide insight into an object’s function or evolutionary relationships. A major objective of morphometrics is to statistically test hypotheses about the factors that affect shape.

But his love of music, and his talent playing the viola, led Chitwood to ask how musical instruments, particularly those designed by masters, evolved over time. Could shapes of violins tell us something about the function of the instrument, or about which violin makers (luthiers) borrowed ideas from others? Could the factors influencing violin evolution be analyzed and understood using the same morphometric approaches used to understand evolution of natural species?

Violin shapes have been in flux since the design and production of the first instruments in 16th century Italy. Numerous innovations have improved the acoustical properties and playability of violins. Although the coarse shape of violins is integral to their design, details of the body outline can vary without significantly compromising sound quality.

Chitwood compiled data on the body shapes of more than 9,000 violins from over 400 years of design history using iconography data from auction houses. The dataset encompasses the most highly desirable violins, and those of historical importance, including violins designed by Giovanni Paolo Maggini, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, and Antonio Stradivari, as well as Stradivari copyists Nicolas Lupot, Vincenzo Panormo, and Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.

The results of Chitwood’s research were published in the article, “Imitation, genetic lineages, and time influenced the morphological evolution of the violin,” in the October 8th edition of the journal, PLOS ONE.

Chitwood found that specific shape attributes differentiate the instruments, and these details strongly correlate with historical time. His linear discriminant analysis reveals luthiers who likely copied the outlines of their instruments from others, which historical accounts corroborate. Clustering images of averaged violin shapes places luthiers into four major groups, demonstrating a handful of discrete shapes predominate in most instruments.

As it turns out, genetics also played a role in violin making. Violin shapes originating from multi-generational luthier families tend to cluster together, and familial origin is a significant explanatory factor of violin shape. Together, the analysis of four centuries of violin shapes demonstrates not only the influence of history and time leading to the modern violin, but widespread imitation and the transmission of design by human relatedness.

As with all scientific papers, Chitwood’s article was rigorously peer-reviewed, in this case, by some of the world’s leading morphometrics experts. The critiques prior to publication led to improvements in the morphometric techniques used in the final analyses. Chitwood is now applying his improved methods to his plant research program at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

“This is a fantastic example of how advances in one field can help advance a seemingly unrelated field,” said Chitwood. “I’ll be a happy scientist and musician if by understanding violin evolution this helps lead to improved crop plants that are more productive and sustainable.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Donald Danforth Plant Science CenterNote: Materials may be edited for content and length. / 

Journal Reference:

  1. Daniel H. Chitwood. Imitation, Genetic Lineages, and Time Influenced the Morphological Evolution of the ViolinPLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (10): e109229 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109229

Human creativity may have evolutionarily developed as a way for better bonds between parent and child

wpid-2012-01-23_17-24-24_507.jpgWe constantly hear about innovation and creativity. We hear of ways to activate the creative side of our brain. How to inspire ourselves and others to spur on new ideas. But, where did creativity come from? Why did we start thinking outside convention? Many will argue that it was necessity as our societies grew in size. That, after thousands of years, our social landscape and norms had shifted so drastically that we were required to change the way we accommodated our new lifestyles. But new research suggests that our creative development was for a more personal reason. We now go to Disneyland for more answers…

Evidence from Disneyland suggests that human creativity may have evolved not in response to sexual selection as some scientists believe but as a way to help parents bond with their children and to pass on traditions and cultural knowledge, a new study published in the inaugural issue of the International Journal of Tourism Anthropologysuggests.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico has suggested that human creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality, all evolved as forms of courtship behavior. He used evidence drawn from the Southern California tourist industry to underpin his argument. The work offers an explanation as to why the human brain is so much bigger relative to body size than that of other apes — sexual selection for greater intellect. Intriguingly, Miller has referred to the mind as “amusement park.” Now, anthropologists Craig Palmer of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and Kathryn Coe of the University of Arizona beg to differ. Although Miller talks of the mind in such terms, he fails to include in his analysis the most famous amusement park in the world, Disneyland. Palmer and Coe suggest that this is one of the most dense concentrations in the world of exactly those aspects of culture — art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality — that Miller claims evolved as courtship displays. Writing in the IJTA, Palmer and Coe suggest that Miller’s hypothesis cannot account for the fact that Disneyland is fundamentally devoted to children. They reason that Disneyland and other similar amusement parks, support an alternative hypothesis that the creative aspects of the human brain may have evolved in the context of parents influencing their offspring, and offspring responding to their parents, not in the context of courtship. The researchers do concede that some tourism is related to courtship, and not just “honeymoon” tourism and that it often involves art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality as part of the attractions. The team argues, however, that “The brain circuitry involved in both the generation of, and response to, these traits was selected for because it enabled parents to increase their fitness by increasing their ability to influence their offspring.” The human brain increased in size through evolution as cultural traditions accumulated over numerous generations. “Traditions can last much longer than a generation or two and that the massive accumulation of traditional behavior is unique to our species as is the large brain,” the team concludes.

Alter your genes by listening to classical music

Thomas McGregor

May 19th 2015

We’ve all heard the the varying benefits of listening to classical music. However, we now find scientific research that suggests that you can alter your genes by doing so. If this is true than listening to music can mean more than ever to the development and longevity of your brain. Furthermore, what we listen to in general has reached an entirely new hight in impertinence. Just as in what we put in our body effects our biology, so to what we listen to effects our brain.

A study by the University of Helsinki stated that even though listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a this study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species. Additionally, a Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music has affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes.
Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson’s disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds. “The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans,” says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the leader of the study. In contrast, listening to music down-regulated genes that are associated with neurodegeneration, referring to a neuroprotective role of music. “The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects,” researchers remark.


The Genius Guide to Success | Article Review | Does Practice Makes Perfect?


I excitedly picked up my March/April copy of mental_floss today, lured in by what the titled promised; “The Genius Guide to Success.” 

I read through the pages, enjoying each tip, strategy and idea that came from top achieves in our society both, past and present. Then, found myself on page 36 where MF cited the idea of practicing and how it applies to successful execution. Some interesting things came out of this section of the article as it exposed the habits of top performers. I outline these below:


Glen Gould, pianist : Preferred to practice mentally. Believing that he performed best when he didn’t touch a piano for a month.

Slash, Guns N’ Roses guitarist : Practiced 12 hours a day while in high school. Doesn’t practice now.

Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter : Played 4-5 hours per day in high school.

Jonas Salk, scientist : Spent 16 hours researching the polio vaccine.

Nik Wallenda, tightrope walker : Practiced 3-4 hours a day before walking between two Chicago skyscrapers.

Eminem, rapper : Read the dictionary 2-3 hours every day in order to improve his vocabulary and rhyming skills.

After looking at all these practice habits by top performers, you may be wondering what the commonality is. Well, this secret is hidden in plain sight. The answer is not found in the amount of practice they sustained rather, what they practiced. They all zeroed in on the main skill or technique that would give them the edge. They focused in on the routine that worked best for sharpening their skills. Then, they refined it over and over and over again. Something else you may pull from this is the shift in perspective from practice as work, to practice as refinement. Essentially, that’s what you’re doing when you are rehearsing a key skill. You are refining it in order to embed quality habits so that the practitioner is able to call on these skills at a moments notice with a limited amount of risk.

In conclusion, we learn that top performers take sharpening key skills, seriously. They, as we should, look for the ONE skill that will give them the greatest benefit. Therein, allowing them to access this skill at any time under any amount of pressure. This makes them quick, efficient and the best. Ultimately, in order for this to work we need to clear the clutter that takes up a lot of our time and focus on the main skill that will leverage a competitive advantage. By doing this we can soon see ourselves among the greats in our society.
With Appreciation,


The Top 4 Internet Locations to Devote Your Attention To On a Daily Basis — and Why


Are you one of those people that gets out of bed and hits the Facebook app on your phone to see who is posting pictures of the sunset or their breakfast tacos? I will admit; I have been victim of the glorious sunset, that greats us only once every day, picture Instagramming. But, I will be even more honest and say that the picture is only a representation of that gloriousness that I experienced in person, not near as amazing. What this does is begs us to reevaluate where we value our attention, especially online.

When you look, there is literally millions of websites, ebooks, videos and online workshops that we can take that will “better our lives” or influence us in some way. As this is an amazing feat that we have achieved as a species, we have not yet developed a method, or criterion, by which we gauge where we devote our time to amongst all these vast resources. That is a necessity in order to get the most out of the internet and, more importantly, out of our day.


The websites we need to look at fall within three main categories only. They are: 1. Major local, national and worldwide news stories from independent sources. 2. Success/Growth oriented material from top experts. 3. Current information released by top experts in your field.

Regarding websites, this is actually the NEEDS versus the WANTS when it comes to online browsing.


Social networking can work to your advantage if you keep in mind that social networking is very different than physical networking. You should take time to not brows the feeds and instead invest in reaching out to business partners, friends and family members. Take the time that you would normally spend investing your time in the agendas of others and invest in writing some thoughtful notes to people you want to stay in touch with.


This is the best part — at least for me. You can quite literally learn just about anything you want to learn, either for free or for a reasonable fee. This is where I might get a little distracted, as I love to learn about everything and understand how it’s all connected. But these educational resources should only fall under one category; does what I’m learning help me in a way that I can make life better for myself and others? This is the purpose of education, no? For instance, most people would not need to buy a course on fundamental astrophysics just out of pure interest. Other things that fall under less complicated categories can catch our attention in which we want to be careful up. Ask the above question before you dive into any new course undertaking.


Videos are another source of education, or at least should be. This is where the time goes when it comes to internet use. We get caught in the black hole that is the Youtube recommend section. Youtube has this amazing feature that consistently feeds you videos that directly relates to what you’ve watched in the past, enabling you to slip into this multi-10minute cycle spiraling vortex of lost time. Let’s become aware of this. The above question regarding education should apply here as well. Ask whether what you are watching is contributing a positive influence on your life. *Note: Our subconscious mind reacts and is influenced most by images. This makes videos, by far, one of the most important recourses to both take in and be careful of when navigating the inter web.



“Live your inspiration, deliberately!”