In my early days of teaching, the idea of the left-brain-/right-brain person was very popular. Left brain dominant people are logical analytic, organized, rational. Right-brained folks are creative, passionate, sexual, colorful, poetic, a bit irrational.
But current neuroscience seems to be saying we should get rid of that notion. In a post for Scientific Americanu by Scott Barry Kaufman, “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.” he writes that the left/right distinction is “not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain.”
As someone who always turned out to be half and half on those L/R tests, I am pleased that the science now shows that creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain. Creativity is a process with multiple steps and multiple parts of the brain are involved in those steps.
The preparation, the incubation, that moment of illumination, verification are all steps that have been identified. The steps all need to interact and not usually in a clear linear fashion. We jump from right to left brain.
There are three large-scale brain ‘networks’ that seem to be critical for creativity.
1. Executive Attention Network – recruited when a task requires that your attention be very focused like when you’re concentrating on a challenging lecture, or solving a problem.
2. The Imagination Network: used when you are imagining “alternate perspectives and scenarios”.
3. The Salience Network: monitors both external events and internal stream of consciousness and “flexibly passes the baton to whatever information is most salient to solving the task at hand.”
The new takeaway on understanding creativity, according to neuroscientists, is recognizing that different patterns of thinking are important at different stages of the creative process.
I like that scientists are also studying seriously brain regions that are critical for daydreaming, imagining the future, remembering deeply personal memories, constructive internal reflection, meaning making, and social cognition.
As Kaufman concludes, “much more research is needed that investigates how the brain creates across different domains, species, and timescales.”