Anna Abraham literally wrote the book on creativity and the brain. The Leeds Beckett University psychology professor is the author of a new textbook titled The Neuroscience of Creativity. From an interview with Abraham by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American:
SBK: Why does the myth of the “creative right brain” still persist? Is there any truth at all to this myth?
AA: Like most persistent myths, even if some seed of truth was associated with the initial development of the idea, the claim so stated amounts to a lazy generalization and is incorrect. The brain’s right hemisphere is not a separate organ whose workings can be regarded in isolation from that of the left hemisphere in most human beings. It is also incorrect to conclude that the left brain is uncreative. In fact even the earliest scholars who explored the brain lateralization in relation to creativity emphasized the importance of both hemispheres. Indeed this is what was held to be unique about creativity compared to other highly lateralized psychological functions. In an era which saw the uncovering of the dominant involvement of one hemisphere over the other for many functions, and the left hemisphere received preeminent status for its crucial role in complex functions like language, a push against the tide by emphasizing the need to also recognize the importance of the right hemisphere for complex functions like creativity somehow got translated over time into the only ‘creative right brain’ meme. It is the sort of thing that routinely happens when crafting accessible sound bites to convey scientific findings.
SBK: Is brain plasticity truly possible? If so, to what extent? How can creative thinking both induce and be caused by brain plasticity?
AA: Brain plasticity is a fact. Our brains change throughout our lifespan and this is readily evidenced by the everyday observation that we never stop learning. The extent of brain plasticity is harder to define and hasn’t been systematically examined. Creative thinking involves the discovery of novel connections and is therefore tied intimately to learning. Arthur Koestler pointed this out rather beautifully several decades ago: “Creative activity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.”
The Neuroscience of Creativity (Amazon)
(Image: “A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London” by Gaetan Lee)