Transcript: How can we unlock our brain's creative potential?

Prof. Anna Abraham

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Hi, my name is Anna Abraham and this is my Garden talk. Hello and welcome to The Garden. I'm Sophie and I'll be guiding today's via side chat joining us in The Garden today is neuroscientist and psychologist Professor Anna Abram. Anna is a world expert on creativity, imagination and the brain. She is the pull torrents professor and director of the torrent Center for creativity and Talent development at the University of Georgia, where she leads the creativity and imagination. Lab ANna studies the psychological and neuro physiological basis of creativity and other aspects of human imagination.

We're thrilled to have a joint here in The Garden today and a welcome to The Garden. It's wonderful to have you here. Thank you Sophie, I'm delighted to be here now to begin with the obvious question, why do we need creativity? To me that's an interestingly put question and I would reframe it by saying not why do we need creativity, but why do we have creativity? Human beings are singularly extraordinary species when it comes to creativity. And the real question is why is that? And part of the solution of the way to answer that question is to think about the fact that we have problems to solve and our problems can be quite complex, very complex in terms of all of the things that we need to consider the impact that many people who are affected by things, the different context that they can take place in and those context call and those problems call for a novel, satisfying and non obvious solution to be generated and that is essentially how we would define creativity the capacity to generate non obvious novel and satisfying solutions.

Um so that is why we have need creativity depending on how you want to put that question. How did you come to study and research creativity? What sparked the interest in that topic? Well, I've always been madly in love with any kind of output of creativity. You know, I've grew up just loving books and watching films and enjoying art and sports, and there was something about just the thrill of watching someone else's creativity or being able to experience someone else's creativity that gave me the most joy.

Um I didn't really have the kind of background or the resources or the opportunities or perhaps even the confidence to pursue creativity as at a professional capacity. I'll do it did a lot of amateur stuff as a kid. Um but then I got the opportunity to sort of study it from inside out, I got interested in research. Um and the only thing I wanted to research when I was I fell in love with the idea of research, and then the only thing I wanted to research was creativity because at the time that I got into the field, there was not that much being done from the perspective that I wanted to adopt, which was the neuro scientific neuroscientist thick sort of lens on it, essentially understanding the brain basis of creativity.

Um so that's kind of how I went down that route. And the first question that I was passionately involved in trying to understand was the creativity mental illness link, which was something I think I've always been interested in. Um and the Neurosciences allows me to look at that from a very unique lens and that's what got me into it. That's really interesting. And that brings us on to the next question, which is really around, where does creativity start? Is there a part of the brain where creativity is located? How does our brain think of creative ideas? Yeah, that's a really good question.

And I can tell you you for sure that several decades of brain research now, neuro scientific research has pretty much confirmed that there are no single brain regions, no single brain networks and no single brain activity patterns if you want that are exclusively in place for creativity. This was seen as surprising. But actually, if you think about it, it gives us a lot of power. It means that there's no special part of the brain that all of us need to have in order to be creative. What we essentially, no.

Is that creativity is applying your regular mental toolbox information processing mechanisms, whatever where you want to think about it in in situations that are open ended, complex, nonlinear, non obvious, um vague. Yeah. So you're using your usual toolboxes in an unusual manner and the brain systems that are involved are pretty much dictated by the problem context, you know? So the brain mechanisms involved would be a little bit different if you were trying to compose a piece of music compared to when you were strategizing on the football field of where to kick the where to kick the ball to, for instance.

So the context determines what area specifically will come into place. But what is absolutely central in all types of creativity is that there are multiple brain systems working in very dynamic ways with one another. For a long time, we've heard that the left brain is the logical analytic part of the brain, whereas the right brain is more emotional and creative. Is that actually true? There is a kernel of truth there. In fact, the latest book that I'm writing explores the so called myth truths of the creative brain and the case I make in that book about the creative right brain hypothesis and among many others, is that all of these ideas and notions in the case of the creative right brain, it's really a meme now, you can't, there's no way of taking it away from the cultural understanding of how creativity works in our minds.

Um they had a kernel of truth there and what becomes and how it becomes falsehood in some ways is because they become exaggerated. But the kernel of truth is what I'm interested in when the idea was proposed, the creative right brain idea. It was in the context in which the left brain was being overly emphasized as being you know, the seat of reason really important for all sorts of logical analytical process is absolutely central for language processing, goal, directed action and so on. And the the right brain was seen as a bit of a well, everything else in there.

It's kind of really interesting to see the archival sort of history of literature on this and when creativity came up, what the first researchers found was actually creativity is kind of unusual because it involves both hemispheres and because the right hemisphere was so underemphasized, the case that was made them was that this is an ability for which the right hemisphere is also very, very important and in fact central to it. And over time that caught kind of distills into the right brain is the creative brain sort of idea that's in place.

But right from the earliest researchers, they were simply trying to make a case for the importance of the right brain, but in emphasizing it such um the way that information was transmitted became sort of like it became, let's say, misheard if you want and pushed as the creative brain is the right brain and the left brain is uncreative and we know this is not to be true. So there is a kernel of truth to the idea, but said said in a sort of generalization, it is certainly false. Thank you for clarifying that, busting some myths here.

Now, when you think about looking at the brain and creative ideas being formed in the brain or creative activity happening in the brain, are there experiments that you can run to actually see what happens to the brain when it's doing something creative or thinking creative doing creative activity? What actually happens? What do you see happening there again? You can we have a lot of great tools at our disposal to look either directly or indirectly at brain activity patterns, for instance. So in a very simple case, I could give you a simple creative problem solving task while you're lying in a functional neuro imaging scanner.

And I can give you the task to do while your brain activity patterns are being recorded and I can look at the activity that is being generated when you're doing something creative thinking, creatively expanding your concepts and so on, engaging in creative imagery um compared to tasks where that is not required. And by a kind of subtracted process, I can tell, well, this is the these areas um are definitely involved in creative ideation. Um there are also more indirect ways to look at things um approach that I've used quite a bit and I quite like a lot is looking at people who have certain types of brain insufficiencies.

So these can be neurological groups or psychiatric groups. So you can look at people who have specific lesions or damage to specific areas in the brain. Give them a whole range of creative cognitive tasks. All the tasks differ in terms of the type of creative cognitive um aspect that they measure and by looking at the way patients perform relative to neuro typical counterparts or controls, you can tell a lot about where in the brain and creative processes, which parts of the brain are important for that particular creative process.

Because the performance of the people who are whole show specific kinds of brain damage, they can show not just impaired function, but they can also show enhance function on specific aspects of creative cognition. So that is a great tool to find out where in the brain, certain creative cognitive process are being operationalized. I know I've heard in the past that frontal lobe controls the executive functions of reason, logic, planning. This may or may not be right. You're correct me, I'm sure. But does that override kind of creative activity in the brain? Or does it support creative activity in the brain? It's a great question.

The frontal lobe, for me is like a little bit of a slippery fish every time you think you've got a handle on it, it just slips out and tells you that it is the diametric opposite. So it's certainly important for goal directed action as you mentioned, but it's a very, very big structure. It's about a third of your new cortex and in the frontal lobe on many, many distinct areas that do very different things in the context of creativity. Um What is very important and absolutely central to creativity is the ability to overcome what you know in order to reach new spaces and you actually need the control system to sort of be there some aspects of the control system to be there to persevere, push forward.

Yeah. Um the highest levels of the control system um at the same time there are studies that show that very very specific kinds of damage to the frontal lobe can need to enhanced ability to sort of, you can be slightly disinhibited or you can be more likely to get sort of get over salient destructor that is pushing it to be quite uncreative and so that we're still trying to understand what the structure does um what we know that what we know for sure sure, is that it's really in the kind of experiments that you do with neuro typical participants.

My own work has shown that a confluence of regions or brain networks is important among them. The highest integration structures of the frontal lobe in order to well, you're integrating different types of information together. That's your processing novelty requires a different sort of more complex type of information processing that the frontal lobe has to be um overseeing but certain other parts of the frontal lobe that are more about inhibition and so on a little bit of diffuse functioning there can lead to enhanced creativity as well.

Is there a personality trait that creative people all share? Yes, there is one, thankfully this is one part of the research which is pretty straightforward. The personality trait of openness to new experiences is the most sort of consistently associated personality trade with creativity. And this is true across all age groups. So people who are curious about the world, imaginative thinking an open ended manner are driven to try new experiences questioning about the world, engage in their sensory and conceptual imagination.

That is an interesting trait and it has been singularly associated both with artistic and scientific creativity as well. It's really interesting that you said that openness to possibility of innocents to experience is something that if you have it at any age, you are, you know, associated with creativity, but does everyone have creative potential? Yes, I see it as a that's a question that I always answer with a resounding. Yes. It's a it's a drive that we have, we are essentially creative from the get go because there's a lot we have, we have sense making to do in the world as soon as we come into it, Children show it at the minute they're able to express things.

They explore the world. They make sense of it. They have theories about how things work. It's something that gives that we easily recognize in Children and if we can recognize it there. Um we know that it's pretty fundamental and everyone has it where we differ a lot, of course is in how much each of us engage this creative drive that we're born with. Um it's a little bit like thinking about all of us have have the potential to run to be physically have a basic physical ability to be able to move in specific ways, but not all of us end up being marathon runners, right? And there's a specific disposition there, or a specific interest, other factors that need to come into place that will push you to engage your drive to the maximum possibility that you have.

It's interesting that you mentioned Children because I think Children are always seen as hugely creative, you know, they're always playing, they're always inventing things and there seems to be something that gets lost as people progress through to adulthood does something actually change in the brain to cause that change so that many adults don't feel that they have creativity or they can be creative. It's a really interesting question, I don't think it's been systematically studied, so, you know, to follow up, it's surprising, right that we have very few longitudinal studies looking at people across their lifespan from a brain based perspective, as well as a behavioral perspective to see what changes and what varies.

Um we rarely recognize creativity in Children because we're observing them a lot and you know, and there not they're very uninhibited and we allow them to be uninhibited and expletive and say fun things and we celebrated, we applaud it. Um, as people get older, I wouldn't, of course their brains are changing and so on. But it's more like other abilities, very, very important abilities obviously get emphasized and get trained up And there's a little less opportunity to show your creativity or even when you do, it's not necessarily recognized applauded and and so on.

So a child, a little five year old saying very silly things and talking about make believe worlds, we like that, right? We think that's fantastically imaginative, but a 13 year old doing that constantly. We might think that the there's something wrong with them, right? So we have very different standards. We apply to different age groups. And so that's why it's difficult to answer that question. We don't really know if there's something changing within the person itself as much as how much of it is has to do with social acceptability.

What they're interested in, their interest could be quite different when they're quite young. They're interested in figuring out the world around them at a certain point. They kind of feel like they've figured it out and they probably more interested in other things as well. So I don't think of creative ability if you have it and you don't show it as being lost. I just see it as something that becomes dormant because you're not using it as much. You talked about some of your research focuses on personality disorders, mental health issue that can impact people's ability to be creative or can enhance their creativity.

Can you talk a bit more about that? Yes. So there is I was fascinated by the mental illness and creativity link and lead to a wider fascination with specific kinds of phenomena you see in relation to creativity And that is for instance that specific types of brain damage can sometimes in a very small subset of people lead to a solicitation of creative function. Um So in the I was I've been trying to understand the different mechanisms around it. One of the things that I focused on was disinhibition or distractibility.

Um And so I was able to show in some of my work for instance specific enhancements of functions and specific populations. So um let's say when I looked at Children with A. D. H. D. That's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and gave them a whole battery of creativity tasks. Um They showed very varied performance depending on the kind of task it was. So um there was one task in which they showed better performance than their neuro typical counterparts and that was in a task that required them to inhibit um salient distracters.

This is an interesting task where you asked Children or adults to invent a new toy that has never existed before and doesn't currently exist and just before they're able to do that. You give them examples. You give them these engineered examples of new toys that were created by others and unbeknownst to the participants, they have three elements there in common and then what you look at is when the participant is allowed to draw themselves and create a toy themselves, how many of these three elements do they incorporate in their own invention? And that tells you how constrained they were by these salient new examples.

And what we were able to show was that Children with A. D. H. D. These were adolescents were way better than the neuro typical counterparts and being able to overcome these salient examples and were able to have more original inventions. And that's because the distractibility which is their central symptom um in this context proves to be an advantage. Right? So the kind of ideas that I was pursuing then was if distractibility leads to negative performance in some situations which involves goal directed thinking.

If we create a situation in which distractibility will be an advantage, we should be able to show it and that's the kind of work through which I come to creativity. Whereas some types of insufficiencies, I want to try and figure out ways in which those insufficiencies can be advantages in which context will it apply. So that is some of my work with in the context of meant illness and brain disorders and have sort of confirmed that with other populations neurological populations like patients with basal ganglia lesions brain damage, they showed a similar pattern as well.

So we can be pretty sure then about the mechanisms underlying certain aspects of creativity. When we take these sorts of roots of investigation. I love the fact that you're able to determine that in certain situations having a neurodivergent brain can be a superpower. That's really wonderful. So on to another question about imagination, because imagination is often seen as a key element of creativity. How how is imagination used to unlock creativity? Yes, so it's an interesting bit of a conundrum because in my view, let's say, creativity is one aspect of imagination because imagination is extremely broad in terms of what it is, it's the capacity to represent something that doesn't exist in your perceptual space at the moment and that can be an image, it can be an idea, it can be an intention, it can be all sorts of things, and you can use your imagination actually very uncreative ways like when you ruminate on something or you're absolutely fixated on something that's not true or that's not, you know, it's not the focus now, but your imagination is taking you there, there are many destructive ways in which the creator the imagination works.

Um I have a conceptualization framework, a theoretical framework, neuron philosophically inspired framework of the imagination, in which I propose five categories of the imagination and the category of imagination in which creativity is part of, is the category that is not that gives rise to novel combinatorial imagination. So this is the kind of imaginative processes that are used when you're trying to go beyond the current context, into new conceptual spaces, into something that is unknown and that's involved when you're engaging in hypothesis generation, hypothetical reasoning and so on.

So, but other aspects of imagination not need not be specifically creative in any way, they just have to represent something that's not there, such as sensory, motor based imagination and so on. I'm very intrigued by these five categories of imagination. Could you elaborate a bit more? Yeah, sure. So they are the categories are both based on sort of looking at conformity is and the kind of research that we have across three different fields, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Um because the imagine conceptualizing the imagination has been a bit of a difficulty because it's so varied in its manifestations.

So, when I looked at the literature across disciplines, I noticed that there were certain ways in which we could sort of put together different aspects of creativity into particular categories. The first category I proposed was I call it sensory motor based aspects of imagination, and this is essentially um for instance, when I ask you to imagine um the face of a loved one who's currently not present around you, that's you using your visual imagery when I ask you to think of your favorite song and you can imagine that's you using your musical imagery.

Um and when we look at the brain basis of imagery, whether it's visual musical kinesthetic motor, um the same brain regions that are involved in perception overlap in the in the imagery of those particular modalities. You know, so visual imagery of the face of your loved one will activate at least the secondary level regions and beyond the same areas that are activated when you're actually looking at the face of a loved one. Right? That sensory based imagination, The second part, type I call phenomenology based imagination.

This is the kind of imagination that is sort of more introspective emotional aspects that come out when we are having an aesthetic experience. For instance, when you are listening to a piece of music and you feel goose bumps or you look at a work of art and you feel all sorts of complex things when you look at studies that look at different ways in which aesthetic experience, whether the pleasure is from getting eating a chocolate or looking at a beautiful image, there are specific areas in the brain that are commonly activated and these belong to the sort of salience network and the intercepted networks that queue for significant relevant salience emotionality, introspection, you're aware of your own bodily states.

The third part is the third category is called I call intentionality based imagination and that's the kind of imagination we use all the time. So when we're talking to each other, you're trying to make sense of what I'm saying, what's going on in my mind, I'm trying to make sense of what you're saying. And so that's kind of mental state reasoning. It's also the kind of imagination you use when you're thinking about your own past or your own future, so the last time you had a haircut or what you're going to do over the holiday season um and and so on.

So those types of imagination are similar in that they activate particular network that we now know to be the default Mowbray network that is involved in sort of internal mente shin. And the main thing about these aspects of the imagination that you're trying to reach to what is plausible, what seems to be most likely to be the case here. So it's imaginative, but not necessarily creative. The third is what I've already talked to you about novel combinatorial imagination, where creativity lies, and these types of imagination involved a confluence of interaction between several brain networks um necessarily because you're trying to read a new conceptual space, and the fifth type is called altered states of imagination.

So when things go wrong in any of those four categories, either local or global brain disruptions to the particular neural systems that are involved in any of those four categories, you can find altered what you find as altered states of the imagination that can be either temporary or permanent, normal or not normal and so on, and so forth. So, for instance, taking psychedelic drugs leads to temporary change in imagination because of the way it acts on a specific brain systems. Um having a lesion in the temporal parietal junction, for instance is very strongly associated with out of body experiences, right? And that's because it's one of the key areas in the intentionality based category of imagination and so on.

Um dreaming is an altered state as well, but it's perfectly normal. All of us experience it there again, we have a strange switch in the in the way our brain networks work, right? So our control systems are completely down regulated, our default systems are completely up regulated and so on. So the category, the five part category helps us under try to I tried to the main purpose of it was to try and comprehensively understand many different aspects of imagination, how they relate to each other and how they work together in different contexts.

Absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I'm going to make this more personal now at the beginning you mentioned that one of the reasons that we are creative as a species is because we have problems to solve. And I think we all have problems to solve small problems every day. Big problems in the world we need to solve. So creativity has value. So what can we do to actually start unlocking creativity ourselves or building that creativity muscle. Yeah, get that question a lot.

And because people are very curious about it and I think the main stumbling block for creativity is really in action, the fact that we don't try, right? I see creativity as um not really that the recognition of what we need to do to be creativity, to be creative to be at the lowest point possible and we need a revolution like we had for physical um physical fitness prior to the eighties, for instance, before everyone had, there was a widespread access to TVs tv programs, aerobic channel, you know, aerobic exercise sort of programs and so on.

There wasn't much awareness globally about the importance of physical fitness, right? And it took all sorts of factors to come in in order for something that is now very commonplace, all of us know at least about physical fitness, everybody may or may not pursue it, but we know what's good for us, why it's important, it's considered to be just self evident and if you were a child born now, perhaps you wouldn't really imagine that this was completely unknown and inaccessible to most people prior to the seventies and eighties, um creativity needs something like that to happen.

Just the awareness that first um to not see creativity as the remit of just a few talented people, like I've said within this conversation, it is a fundamental drive, we're born with it. Um and then to recognize the factors that cause our inaction one is a to not see yourself as a creative person And second is essentially to think about if you were interested in promoting your creativity, you have to think about what pushes your curiosity because curiosity and motivation really, the driving factors of of creativity um you know, and the openness to wonder or an interest in something and that's very individual, what interests me may not be particularly would interest you.

The the particular example I use sometimes is when I'm sitting with a friend um and we both like a cup of coffee, we both take a cup of coffee because we enjoy it. But where I when you know the kettle water is being poured from the kettle into the cafeteria for instance, for the coffee, I just hear water pouring, whereas he probably hears um music, right? And because that's what he's open to, that's what he's interested in, and I always tell people you should cultivate your curiosity, figure out what it is that you like and interests you and go for it.

Start a practice just as you go, might go to the gym or take a run or something, um do that for your creativity. Um Start if it's drawing, start to draw a little bit every day and then the most important thing perhaps is keep it to yourself, don't feel the need to share this, this is a sort of private practice is the way it should start because when people really start to show it to others, then the other person's eye influences the way you do things and that's not very effective and can kind of thwart your creativity.

So I would say think of creativity as your little superpower because nobody can be creative in the way that you can and your task is to find out what it is that you do or what it is that you're unique at. Not in terms of the task itself, but the way you do things and it's a process of self discovery, it's extremely rewarding and it's for you and it gives you lots of lots of little benefits. So essentially action curiosity drive, start there and develop a practice and think of it as a practice that like you would do for your physical fitness, it's really, really helpful and we are a community for the curious, so I'm sure we have very creative individuals in our membership.

Now let's move on to the kind of things that can dampen creativity. What kind of actions or behaviors could inhibit or dampen creativity. Yeah, I mean, I think a point is a little bit in the answer to the previous question, in action. Right? So in action doesn't come because of the people are necessarily lazy or something in action can come from lack of opportunity. So, depending on the context that you're looking at. So in the workplace for instance, dan Pink's work is very informative for the importance of being in a workplace that makes you feel a sense of autonomy makes you feel a sense of mastery and a sense of purpose.

Yeah, not all of us have the advantage of the good fortune to be in workplaces that allow us that. Um, so then you don't really have a potential within your workplace perhaps to be creative. My own work, for instance, has shown the importance of creative activities engaging in creative activities in the context of education. Um this is a real problem then because if you don't have any means by which to engage in creative activities, um not in schools because schools cut arts funding, not at home because perhaps your parents either are not interested in the arts themselves can't afford to take you to classes and so on.

Um this leads to an action in the, in the context of Children and it's a severe problem then so partly the things that dampen creativity are not just internal, the kind of things I spoke about before, but also external. And as a community, we need to recognize what it is that we need to put in place in our different communities as diverse as they can be across the world to make it easy for people to pursue their creativity, just like gyms have come up all over the place. We need something like that for creativity.

One of my main concerns for creativity and creative ability is that um we care a lot about Children's creativity and we put a lot of attention there, but once they turn 18 and they're out of the school system, everything drops all of the opportunities to do a little bit of amateur theater to take. Like, you know, the point is the activity not to get great at it or not to be, you know, when you pursue activities later on your life, it's because you think you have some recognized talent and so on, it's very rarely because it's just available for you to mess around with, unlike in school, so we need to have adult context of being able to mess around in these sorts of pursuits as well.

So those are the dampening external factors for creativity. Well, we're going to go on to some of our members questions in a moment. I can see some great questions, but I'm gonna give people the chance to add in their own questions for you anna and also vote up other people's questions. So the first question comes from Simon and Simon says he is a very uncreative person, other things that he can do to actually become more creative, Are there any mental exercises or activities that you would encourage him to do? Yeah, Simon, thank you for that question.

I don't believe anyone as uncreative as I said. Um, but I recognize that a lot of people would like these sorts of tips and what I try to do as I've done in class today is to tell my students think about the main thing about creativity to understand is that it's about developing a sense of what is new, right? And one way to do it is to train yourself to look at things in you. So I have a lot of exercises that I kind of do sometimes I do myself, which is um I focus on unusual, unusual perceptual experiences.

For instance, I might imagine an example would be when I'm bored and I don't want to look at my phone because I actively avoid that. Um I might decide that I'm a really tiny person who is sitting on top of I don't know the light that's above me and I imagine what it might be looked like, the room looks like from that perspective? Um you can do these little sort of perceptual games that really just is a fun um be very private and just opens up the way you view the world and then I think what happens is that when you do those sorts of practices, you start to automatically engage in those processes in your daily life without even thinking this what if way of looking at the world, what if this was different and you can do that in a sensory capacity for those of us who want very big on imagery, you can do it conceptually as well, so you could imagine something was different.

So what would happen if for instance, the earth stop rotating? And you can just start to think about all of the things that would have to change of, one part of the world was into permanent darkness and one part of the world was in permanent daylight. What are all of the ramifications that would have you know socially, economically, politically and so on. You can always and you can pick anything really. Um and I think those sorts of exercises when you sort of first of all you have to push yourself to do it.

Um but after after a while it becomes second nature and that's essentially where you see the power of your own mind to notice things that you didn't notice before. Um I'm also make a big case for doing physical actions that you're not used to draw even if you can't draw just um force yourself do for a minute, you know pick something to sketch, do it for a minute, stop, try again for two minutes and then three minutes follow like a Fibonacci sequence and you look at what your mind and your body is noticing different from before.

How much you, how you can understand the world better by your motor system and so on. So I would start small by just focusing on what I need to change the boring way I might be seeing. Nothing is boring, how can I make this more interesting, very interesting. Well we will be practicing the what if scenarios tomorrow. Now we have a question from Rebecca and Rebecca's question is what education systems support Children to maintain their creativity. Gosh that's a good one. There are surprisingly few studies that have looked at that.

There's one study and at least from from primary school Children in done in France where they did find evidence that montessori systems and I don't know if they looked at any other alternative system was better than Children that came out of that scored better on specific creativity measures. But so far surprisingly there has not been any funding allocated to people to make a real case for different school systems and their creativity unfortunately. But at least there is some evidence to show at least in the younger Children, some alternative systems work better than whatever the standard might be there, which might be different in the country where you are.

So thank you for that question. And hopefully this talk will inspire some funding in that space because it seems like a very important topic. We're going to move on to the question from marjorie, marjorie's question is what do we know about creativity in other species? Thank you marjorie for that question. They're the animals are also creative. Anyone who tells you otherwise is definitely doesn't know anything the most creative the there are many species that are very have an interesting kind of creativity and creative problem solving Caledonian crows for instance, show a lot of insight problem solving.

Um The species closes to us. Um Other primates like chimpanzees and so on. They show kind of if you think about problem solving a sort of reasoning process. Many species show the ability to have insights, perspective shifts go have non logical reasoning processes that are creative. Um So there are there are, I can't think Hoffman is the last name of one of the authors but she has a book out on animal creativity and edited volume and I would highly recommend it adding that one to our booklist. Glenda is question is this she says we're all interested in how we can increase our creativity.

But how do you actually measure it? How is something judged as being creative or not? It's a great question. Thank you for that. I would say if you are trying to be creative you are the judge first of all and you become a very good judge if you practice you know it's just like when you if you go for a run and you start one year you start one day and then one year later you have a good sense of what your body is capable of doing and how much better you've got the same thing applies in creativity.

So if you're writing let's say poetry writing is what I like to do. I know that the poem I wrote two weeks ago is probably really way way, way better than the one I wrote five years ago because I can track my pro I know because it's more novel a non obvious and satisfying to me. So I would just use those criteria is oh, in what way have I surprised myself, why does this feel more satisfying? You know? Um and really just don't think about someone else being a judge. If you're looking at your own creativity have if what would you find the first person who needs to find something satisfying as you then then comes the rest of the world? Right? So don't be shy at all to think of yourself as the best judge in the first instance of what you can do and really, really be curious about yourself, engage in meta cognitive thinking, which is thinking about your own thought processes.

This is what all creative people, if there's one commonality with highly creative people is that they're very curious about the way their own minds work and they have all sorts of systems in place to sort of check that they're doing things the way that that is conducive to their creativity and so on. And they're great observers of their own process. So I would say cultivate that and have confidence can be cultivated and should be has a question about how you can actually improve people's creativity.

The question is, can how someone is raised impact their creativity other ways to nurture creativity from a young age. That's a really good question and it's one in which there's mixed answers. The few studies that sort of systematically looked at this were done quite a while ago. So we're not really sure if the conclusions are any more valid if you looked at it nowadays, let's say because, you know, parenting styles, the way our culture is so much changes with time. So, but what they did find was something interesting.

Um the most creative people highly evident people when you looked at their backgrounds and the kind of parenting they had, they had one of two backgrounds, either they came from extremely nurturing backgrounds that were they would typically in quite creative families as well. And there was a lot of acceptance and a lot of sort of perhaps drive to be creative and a lot of appreciation for that. So the ideal contexts. Um and the other group of people had the diametric opposite, which was extremely difficult sort of traumatic tragic childhoods.

Um a lot of neglect, sometimes even abuse and so on. So there is a case there to be made if you look at the nurturing side the importance of nurturance, but also on the other side then that it's not necessarily, you know, the case that that kind of background will always lead to a negative welcome. Some people tend to be extremely resilient and that resilience takes them to very creative spaces and achievements in their lifetime. So we have both all I will say is that nurturing creativity within your child child is super critical and the way to do so is to not judge really what they're doing, but to be curious about what they are curious about um and ask them to um ask them why questions, but not in a way that assesses them or um makes them feel that you're evaluating them in any way.

It's more like, huh, what are you doing? Um and that's really good and and to push them to thinking about what they think about, because remember meta cognition, thinking about what they think about is really central to creativity. The next question comes from Dane, and Dane's question is, do people have a creative peak in their lives? Is there a moment where we are most creative in our lives? Can you continue to increase your creativity throughout your life? This is not very well studied or understood.

There seems to be some domains in which this supposed to be a creative peak. So in the field of mathematics, for instance, I know people who are, when I was a graduate student, a fellow graduate student, who was very, very worried that he wasn't Going to be able to reach his parade, he was getting too old and that most mathematicians reach their creative peak at the age of before the age of 30, right? There's this understanding that certain disciplines, there is a peak and that's more in the hard sciences than elsewhere.

Um I'm and there are other works so well, you know, you have the early peaks and you have late developers as well, I find this sort of um I think it's interesting, but I think it takes, I don't want a false narrative to be out there because maybe your peak comes when your whatever years old. Right, We don't really know, but that doesn't mean all the other things that are not the peak are not useful valid, incredibly important. So we shouldn't think about our peaks as being the most important thing to be aware of.

There's a lot of value in thinking about creativity as having peaks and and valleys, you know, and that your second best or third best creative idea is also great. Very, very interesting. Well, we're going to come to our final question in a moment and that is going to be from joseph and this has been such a wonderful talk and conversation with you, anna it's been absolutely fascinating to hear both about the psychology of creativity, the practice of creativity and the neuroscience of creativity.

So, I really think you've opened up our minds to new ideas and hopefully enhanced our creativity. So, joseph's question is this how does movement help creativity? I know some people report that certain types of activity, physical activity can actually improve their creativity. Thank you, joseph for that question. Um Movement is an interesting one because um there are certain types of movement or when you're doing it depends on the kind of movement of course, but if you're running you can sometime, and if you're used to running regularly and so on, you can experience specific types of altered states that are very close to the kind of experiences that you might have when you're being creative.

So when you get something like a runner's high, you don't notice that the passage of time, you're running effortlessly um you're rather related. Um and so on, It's very enjoyable experience. Um It's very similar to the flow experience in many ways of the flow experience that that that we can experience experience in many different contexts, but particularly when we're trying to be creative. Um So I think partly it's sort of channeling those sorts of um if you want information processing mechanisms.

Um I do know that in sort of big league sort of in big league sports, one of the main things that some some teams and some sports they try to focus on is to train people to do unusual movements, movements that they wouldn't be training up. So if you're a basketball player, you train up a lot of basketball skills, but you wouldn't necessarily train up baseball skills or dance skills. Um And so there are sort of schools of sports pedagogy where for instance, um this is no, I can't remember his name is dirk Nowitzki is coach um in the south of Germany who essentially has this summer camp for young basketball kids and they don't just practice a lot of basketball and do a lot of training there.

They learn all sorts of systems of movement, They learn how to row, they learn ballet down, saying they also learn poetry. It's kind of and I think the main thing is if you open up your physical system, your your motor repertoire, then you can use more actions than you would have thought possible if you hadn't trained up those muscles. So I think of creativity we know is a multi modal, multi brain system sort of operation and pretty much a lot that you can do can can will know will in some way or the other feed into it either directly or indirectly.

So there is a case to be made for sports and creativity. We mainly know it in the sports context. We know very little about how that feeds into general creativity like in the arts, but theoretically it would make sense. Very interesting. I love that example as well. And I thank you so much. Unfortunately, that's all we've got time for today. It's been a real pleasure to have you here in The Garden. I hope you will come back again very soon. Thank you so much. It's been fantastic. And thank you to you, our members for joining us here today too.

I hope you enjoyed our talk with Professor Anna Abram on creativity and he will join us again at your next Garden gathering until then stay curious.

Creativity Unlocked Collection

Human ingenuity and inventiveness has continually moved our world forward. From beautiful art works to works of literature, space shuttles to scientific leaps forward, at the heart of progress and change is a spark of creativity.

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