The Biology of Creativity - Right Hemispheric Thinking, Problem Solving by Insight, and Diffuse Attention
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A Northwestern research group has found that people that solve anagram puzzles by sudden insight rather than by conscious search or analytic strategies have an EEG resting state that prefers the right over the left hemisphere. What's different about this finding compared to a previous study is that this hemispheric difference exists even before problem solving begins.
Wouldn't it be preferable if teachers knew which problem solving style students they before they taught them? Couldn't mismatches between problem solving approaches (insight vs. non-insight) contribute to school-related struggles and so-called underachievement?
It's not a great leap to consider how these brain-related differences impact success or failure in the classroom, because we see many bright, creative children who seem to be inexplicably struggling in their early elementary school years. When we talk to them and set challenging tasks before them, they are so obviously bright, playful, and flexible in their thinking, and they frequently have very high IQ test scores to lend support to their promise, but report cards or teachers notes home seem to tell a completely different story... "Not meeting expectations" for motivation, work completion, could this be ADHD etc. etc. So what's the deal?
This excerpt from the Northwestern paper caught our attention:
"...psychometric measures of creativity and measures of real-world creative achievement are associated with a habitual tendency toward diffuse rather than focused attention, which results in ineffective filtering of distracting or irrelevant environmental stimuli (Carson et al., 2003; Mendelsohn & Griswold, 1966; Rowe et al., 2007). One view describes creativity as the ability to utilize nonprepotent remote associations of problem elements in order to discover nonobvious solutions to a problem (Mednick, 1962). Diffuse attention facilitates access to remote associations because it enhances awareness of peripheral environmental stimuli that could serve as cues that trigger retrieval of such associations (Seifert et al., 1995)."
How often it does seem that it's the highly creative child who is having the greatest struggles in the conventional classroom! It's nice finding research that backs up the association. From this Harvard study, a diffuse attentional style was much more common among individuals with high lifetime levels of creative achievement.
The study concludes with a final interesting finding that differences in this attentional style might account for why high IQ beyond a certain point doesn't correlate with higher levels of creative achievement (the threshold effect...e.g. that once one is beyond 120, higher numbers don't correlate with enhanced achievement). If a focused vs. diffuse attentional style is taken into account, then it becomes more evident that diffuse attentional style + high IQ are important factors that contribute to high levels of creative achievement.
Different Problem Solving Styles (Sudden Insight vs. Conscious Manipulation) at Rest
Creative Achievement and Diffuse Attention pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Most Creative Brains
Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Tyranny of Our Thinking Styles