Improve Creativity with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to learn to help improve creativity. There have been studies done specifically to measure the cognitive rigidity of people who meditate and their ability to solve problems in novel ways. The research shows non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular meditators, and they also had a tendency to apply difficult or outdated solutions to easy problems based on their past experiences, this was not the case for people who meditated.” – Bianca Rothschild
The problem solving ability of humans has been a key to their dominance of their environment. So, it’s important that we understand it and discover how to train it and maximize it. Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. In this case focused attention is the key. The mind wandering off topic interferes with the concentration required for obtaining the solution. But, when a solution does not occur and the individual fails to solve the problem a completely different process transpires producing insight. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes. Most of the time these differences are associated with beneficial results, but sometimes they can lead to negative outcomes including a greater tendency to have false memories. So mindfulness should improve problem solving involving logic, reason, and focused attention, while it should interfere with insightful, creative problem solving.
These two forms of problem solving are, in general, associated with different neural systems. Focused attention involves a number of brain structures centered in the frontal lobes. Creative, discursive thinking involves a system of structures known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) involving the parietal lobe, cingulate cortex, and insula. One way to investigate the influence of mindfulness on creative problem solving is to look at the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) during creative problem solving and insight in practitioners with varying amounts of mindfulness training.
In today’s Research News article “Creativity Is Enhanced by Long-Term Mindfulness Training and Is Negatively Correlated with Trait Default-Mode-Related Low-Gamma Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity.” (See summary below). Berkovich-Ohana and colleagues recruited non-meditators and meditators with short (180-1430 hours), intermediate (1740-2860 hours), and long-term (3870-23,000 hours) meditation practice. Divergent creative thinking was measured with the alternative uses task which requires participants to generate as many and unusual uses of conventional, everyday objects. While the participants were engaged in the creativity measurements the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from the scalp.
They found that the intermediate and long-term meditators, compared to the non-meditators and short-term meditators, had significantly greater performance on the creative thinking task including a greater number of alternative uses (fluency) and a greater number of categories (flexibility) of alternative uses. Further, they found that the lower the EEG activity in the gamma frequency range between brain hemispheres the greater the creative thinking. These results suggest that meditation practice alters brain processing, changing the interhemispheric connectivity of the DMN to improve creative thinking.
The study found that meditation practice improves creative thinking which is related to lower functional connectivity for the Default Mode Network (DMN). This, in turn, suggests that the lower ability of the mind wandering system of the brain to affect other brain regions the better the creative thinking. Hence, suppressing mind wandering while engaged in the alternative uses creative thinking task improves creative thinking.
So, improve creativity with mindfulness.
“A central aspect of creativity is divergent thinking, which refers to the ability to come up with lots of different ideas. . . . there is a small influence of mindfulness techniques on divergent thinking. That is, people who engage in mindfulness exercises tend to do a better job of generating more ideas than those who do not. They are better, but not much better.” – Art Markman
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Berkovich-Ohana, A., Glicksohn, J., Ben-Soussan, T.D., Goldstein, A. Creativity Is Enhanced by Long-Term Mindfulness Training and Is Negatively Correlated with Trait Default-Mode-Related Low-Gamma Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 717. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0649-y
It is becoming increasingly accepted that creative performance, especially divergent thinking, may depend on reduced activity within the default mode network (DMN), related to mind-wandering and autobiographic self-referential processing. However, the relationship between trait (resting-state) DMN activity and divergent thinking is controversial. Here, we test the relationship between resting-state DMN activity and divergent thinking in a group of mindfulness meditation practitioners. We build on our two previous reports, which have shown DMN activity to be related to resting-state log gamma (25–45 Hz) power and inter-hemispheric functional connectivity. Using the same cohort of participants (three mindfulness groups with increasing expertise, and controls, n = 12 each), we tested (1) divergent thinking scores (Flexibility and Fluency) using the Alternative Uses task and (2) correlation between Alternative Uses scores and DMN activity as measured by resting-state gamma power and inter-hemispheric functional connectivity. We found that both Fluency and Flexibility (1) were higher in the two long-term mindfulness groups (>1000 h) compared to short-term mindfulness practitioners and control participants and (2) negatively correlated with gamma inter-hemispheric functional connectivity (frontal-midline and posterior-midline connections). In addition, (3) Fluency was significantly correlated with mindfulness expertise. Together, these results show that long-term mindfulness meditators exhibit higher divergent thinking scores in correlation with their expertise and demonstrate a negative divergent thinking—resting-state DMN activity relationship, thus largely support a negative DMN-creativity connection.