Small levels of electricity zapping your brain may enhance your ability for creative thought is the conclusion of a new study by Georgetown University scientists. Georgetown psychology professor Adam Green and Dr. Peter Turkeltaub of Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) used a small amount of electricity to stimulate an area of the brain responsible for creative thinking while giving subjects tasks involving analogical reasoning and verb generation.
“We found that the individuals who were most able to ramp up activity in a region at the far front of the brain, called the frontopolar cortex, were the ones most able to ramp up the creativity of the connections they formed,” explains Professor Green. “Since ramping up activity in frontopolar cortex appeared to support a natural boost in creative thinking, we predicted that stimulating activity in this brain region would facilitate this boost, allowing people to reach higher creative heights.”
Targeting the frontopolar cortex by direct current allowed the subjects performing creativity challenges to form more creative analogical connections between sets of words, and to generate more creative word associations.
Green says that “this work is a departure from traditional research that treats creativity as a static trait. Instead, we focused on creativity as a dynamic state that can change quickly within an individual when they ‘put their thinking cap on.”
According to the Professor, their findings point to the possibility that zapping the brains of individuals by electrical stimulation can enhance their “natural thinking cap boost in creativity”.
The hope is that one day such technology would be used to treat people with brain disorders, like speech and language difficulties.
“Enhancing creative analogical reasoning might allow them to find alternate ways of expressing their ideas using different words, gestures, or other approaches to convey a similar meaning.”
The professors caution people against going out and zapping themselves to become more creative as there is still a lot to be discovered about how the electrical stimulation affects the brain.
“Any effort to use electric current for stimulating the brain outside the laboratory or clinic could be dangerous and should be strongly discouraged,” Green warned.
This news is certainly of the “don’t try this at home until you can build a safe tDCS (Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation) device” variety. And yet there has already been previous research in this field that has shown similar results. Most famously, the Australian scientist Allan Snyder made a Creativity Cap that sent electric current (of about 1.5 milliamps) through the brain to aid people cracking math puzzles. He believes that such a cap allows people to approach the skills of savants, who have been his particular area of research.
See Snyder’s Creativity Cap in action (complete with Morgan Freeman’s narration) here:
There is also a community of Youtubers, who are experimenting on themselves with tDCS stimulation. Check out what Anthony Lee does to himself:
You can read the study by Georgetown professors here in the Cerebral Cortex journal.