One of the most widely accepted theories about creativity, described back in 1962 by Sarnoff Mednick, is that creativity is the result of connecting random bits of information to form new and original ideas. Generally speaking, the more remote the bits of information the more creative the new idea will be. Now, a group of researchers in Japan have demonstrated that this “associationist” view of creativity is actually mirrored in the brain. Within the brain, neuron cell bodies appear somewhat grayish, while the axons that connect neurons to each other are covered with a fatty sheath that appears white in color. Neurons and axons are thus referred to as gray matter and white matter respectively. Hikaru Takeuchi, Yasuyuki Taki, and their colleagues measured connectivity between different regions of the brain using diffusion tensor imaging. They found greater structural integrity in the white matter of remote parts of the brain correlated with divergent thinking scores (a measure of trait creativity) in a group of 42 male and 13 female study participants. They found that remote areas of the brain are more highly connected among individuals who had high scores on a measure of creativity. The authors conclude that integrated tracts of white matter across a broad spectrum of brain regions underlie creativity in the brain. And more exciting news from members of this same research group: certain types of working memory training can increase the integrity of these white matter tracts!
Mednick, S. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process. Psychological Review, 69, 220-232.
Takeuchi, H., Sekiguchi, A., Taki, Y., et al. (2010).Training of working memory impacts structural connectivity. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(9), 3297-3303.
Takeuchi, H., Taki, Y., Sassa, Y., et al. (2010). White matter structures associated with creativity: Evidence from diffusion tensor imaging. NeuroImage, 51, 11-18.