Where does creativity take place in the brain


How does creativity arise in the brain? How can you encourage creative thinking?

Creativity is the creation of something new that is useful. Creativity can only be spoken of on the basis of an action or a product. Usually the ascription of a work or a person is only creative through the judgment of other people. This judgment depends on whether a creative production is considered original and useful because of its special properties (such as when solving classical problems) or whether the creative production is impressive because of its enormous quantity and variety. In any case, unusual thoughts (fantasy) or unusual creativity (productivity) are assumed to be part of the creative process.

Creative thinking

In order to be creative, you first need the imagination, for example a descriptive idea of ​​things that you cannot see or perhaps cannot see at all. These are contents of memory that are given properties, sometimes based on very loose associations. One of the most fascinating facets of thinking is the inexhaustible diversity of the imagination (see also thinking). Some people manage to be creatively active with the help of imagination and to draw recognizable benefits from this confusing store of apparently coincidentally linked thoughts or to create something useful for others. Which brain mechanisms are behind it and under which conditions can action be inspired by creativity?

First of all, you have to realize that our memory works very economically and therefore quite sparingly (see memory). This means that you involuntarily embellish every memory, even if you think you know something exactly. In everyday life you often do not even notice what is basically wrong with a memory or what is written about it. Police officers and judges, however, have to deal with honest but false testimony on a daily basis. So imagination is innate in every human being, you just have to learn to use it to good effect. This is where the usefulness of imagination comes into play. For example, in solving many problems, imagination is required (see Problem Solving).

Productivity and divergent thinking

When it comes to creativity, psychologists prefer to speak of divergent thinking and productivity. Sigmund Freud sometimes simply allowed his patients to freely associate in a relaxed atmosphere. In doing so, he encouraged divergent thinking. There are other ways to check whether you can be productive in an area: What can a brick be used for other than building? Test yourself and easily count the number of uses of a brick that you can think of. A question that is not easy to answer is whether creativity is a characteristic of personality. In the case of children, for example, you can check whether they have developed a lot of ideas for pictures, make various types of drawings or see various alternative courses of action in the event of problems. In adults, the openness to new experiences can be tested with tests. A distinction is made between people who are creative in a variety of ways; others are e.g. more enterprising. Many people, on the other hand, specialize in a particular creative area. It is important to know that you can always improve your ability to be creative.


What is fantasy? How do you decide whether something is only possible or also real? How does superstition arise?

We are used to seeing information processing in the brain as the propagation of excitation in networks of nerve cells. Since nerve cells are constantly active spontaneously, there is a constant flow of information in these networks. Of course, such information can also occasionally become conscious, even without it being significant in the sense of action-relevant. Then we speak of fantasy production.

Imagination is also a common part of problem solving behavior. Even if the pattern recognition in the perceiving nerve networks does not match with stored features, extensive parts of the cerebral cortex are often stressed until finally a pathway to the executive parts of the brain takes place (so that a reaction can be made). Incompletely perceived patterns are supplemented from memory. Especially in more complex problem situations, structures and properties are even considered on the basis of analogies. Whether an issue is complex naturally also depends on the level of knowledge.

One part of the brain that is fundamentally involved in the interpretation of perceptions, including the imaginative, is the supramarginal gyrus. Among other things, a video provides information about its function about reactions when viewing a suggestive film in the section on sensorimotor functions).

Reality check

In the case of pathological conditions, but also sometimes in everyday life, the question arises whether and how the brain can differentiate between fantasy production and reality-related thoughts. Today we assume that, depending on the type of thought, there are several, mutually independent mechanisms that allow a reality check.

In the case of perceptions, the brain can usually easily determine whether a mental image is based on a fantasy or on a real perception. The decisive point is whether the corresponding sensory area was active during the supposed perception. In the case of people with a tendency towards excessive associations, however, it can happen that internally generated images are so active that they, in a sense, stimulate a sensory area in the opposite direction. In this case we are talking about hallucinations.

Memory delusion and suggestion

A form of uncertainty about reality similar to perceptual illusions can occur with memories of things that have been experienced by oneself. Here, too, certain parts of the brain that are usually involved in such memories should become active. If that is not the case, then you have not experienced the situation that goes through your head yourself. When tired or stressed, an uncertainty arises and the subjective impression arises that one has already experienced a situation in which one finds oneself, for example a report on television, (déjà-vu).

However, delusions of memory can be even more serious under certain circumstances. Respondents usually look for plausible answers, especially in exam situations or when interviewing witnesses. Sometimes a situation that affects you is even made up. If there is then another person who suggestively confirms the situation, one is convinced of the correctness of the assumption, even if there is actually no further memory of what they have experienced themselves. In a significant experiment by the British researcher Julia Shaw, volunteers were interrogated three times in a row. During these interrogations it was made it appear that the persons concerned had stolen something or had even carried out an armed robbery. Most of the people interrogated actually believed that they had behaved accordingly in the past and that they had only "suppressed" the crime.

Suggested memory delusions show how much judgments depend on social influences, even when they concern personal experiences. It is particularly easy to be deceived when it comes to facts that concern things that have not been observed or cannot be observed so easily. In such cases, a momentary illusion can turn into lasting self-delusion if a learning process is set in motion through repetition, and superstitious behavior can result. This should be explained using an example.

Self-deception in avoiding losses and striving for profit

Superstition is particularly easy to come by when it comes to avoiding loss. In situations with a high risk of loss, for example in games of chance, or in performance situations, for example before sports competitions, most people look for behavior that, from a subjective point of view, helps to avoid an impending loss. Gambling addicts believe that they can reduce the loss by continuing to play. Athletes sometimes trust dubious coaches and their methods. In the case of illnesses one likes to take a remedy that has already helped another person, sometimes without precise knowledge of the other person's disease process.

In all the cases mentioned, surprising successes play a role in addition to the socially suggestive influences, which simulate a seemingly solid learning experience. The expediency of the respective procedure, when persisting in gambling or when taking an alleged miracle drug, is difficult to refute argumentatively.

Tips on using creativity

Divergent thinking and creative action can be improved through practice. For this purpose, it is recommended to visualize as clearly as possible all the things that you want to deal with more intensively and creatively. Such things can be feelings that you want to represent artistically, or models of cars that you want to design, or scientific objects that you want to examine more closely.

The most descriptive, intellectual preoccupation with the objects and facts of interest can be achieved by providing them with properties that are as concrete as possible, which may not apply at all, but which are fundamentally conceivable. This results in “fantastic” ideas and thoughts that are not necessarily target-oriented, but open the view of the subject and pave the way for new ideas (see problem solving). If none of this helps, one sometimes speaks of entrenched thinking or mental blocks. Then you should do the same thing as in a situation in which a name you know does not occur to you with the best of will: do something else and think of something else. In a casual and relaxed situation (e.g. in the shower or with friends in a cafe), associations are made much easier than under pressure. And once you have opened your thought gates, your thoughts sometimes flow almost by themselves.

Tips to avoid self-deception and from

Behaviors that may prove to be superstitious

Since self-delusions often arise due to suggestive influences, one should protect oneself from suggestion. You can do this by demanding objective and transparent evidence for assertions and not being satisfied with plausible conclusions. It is much more difficult if you want to prevent your own superstitious behavior. Most people tend to be inclined rather quickly to orientate themselves to it in the future after a surprising success of their own actions. In order to be able to systematically assess whether certain behaviors are promising, for example the purchase of a certain product that is supposed to bring a profit when sold later, there is often no reliable experience. Here it is useful to orientate yourself on higher-level rules that have proven themselves in the past to a greater extent and also under adverse circumstances. Scientists do not proceed any differently: They test their assumptions on a larger scale and against alternative assumptions.

Book recommendations to deepen individual topics

Read about superstition and placebo effects.


Learn about memory delusions, fantastic self-reports, and dreaming.


More about creative thinking.


How creativity trains performance in old age.


An undisguised look at creativity.


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This entry was filed under Thinking on by Rainer Bösel.