Source of Creativity in the Brain

April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Scientists have been trying to locate the site of creativity in the brain for centuries. For a long time many believed the right hemisphere of the brain was responsible for this uniquely human ability, while the left was merely the site of logic and rationality. A recent analysis posted online in the esteemed journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience tells a different story.

A study team from the University of Southern California, led by Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, assistant professor of neuroscience at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is working to locate the source of creativity in the brain. Surprisingly, their findings reveal that the left hemisphere of the brain, the site of logic and math, plays a very important role in creative thinking.

Typically, every different task we perform will activate primarily one or theother of the two hemispheres of the brain. It is rarely that they will work together as a team because they are practically in competition. Apparently this is not the case while the brain is performing more complex tasks like creativity.

While the USC study confirms that the right hemisphere is responsible for the bulk of creative thinking work, the left hemisphere is very necessary to this process. Aziz-Zadeh explains, “We need both hemispheres for creative processing.”

The study focused on visual creative tasks, analyzing how the brain responds to demands of this nature. They scanned the visually creative brains of architecture students using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the blood flow in the brains of the test subjects.

The subjects were exposed to three shapes: a circle, a C, and an 8. They were then asked to imaginatively rearrange the shapes into new images. One student formed a face out of the 8 and the C, with the 8 as the two eyes, the circle for the nose, and the C for the mouth. They were also asked to piece the three shapes together with their imaginations to observe whether they formed a square or a rectangle. This second task required more spatial processing than creativity. The first task, the creative task, actually lit up the left hemisphere more than the spatial task. The team concluded from this that the left hemisphere is very crucial to creative processes.

Aziz-Zadeh said the team endeavors to study the creative process further. They wish to explore how different types of creativity (such as singing, acting, painting, and sculpting) affect the brain, and what the differences between these creative activities are, in terms of brain occupation.


“Both Brain Hemispheres Required for Creativity”. (March 6, 2012). Softpedia. March 11, 2012.

“Scientists Search for Source of Creativity”. (March 5, 2012). Neuroscience News. March 11, 2012.



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