A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that creativity can be increased by changing electrical activity within the brain.
For the study, the brains of 20 adults were stimulated using a low dosage of electrical currents which were transmitted non-abrasively through electrodes on the scalp. Testing afterward revealed participants showed an increase in creative thinking by 7.4%, when completing a standard test meant to measure innovative thinking.
Alpha wave oscillations were increased through the electrical stimulation, which are naturally occurring electrical patterns that likely occur when an individual is daydreaming or in a restful waking state, writes Carolyn Gregoire for The Huffington Post.
Previously, researchers believed more alpha activity to be exhibited by highly creative people. The new study suggests that alpha waves could actually be linked to the creative process.
“In a state of creativity, you need to recombine — in different, novel ways — previously experienced things,” explained Dr. Flavio Frohlich, assistant professor of psychiatry, cell biology and physiology, and biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina and the study’s lead author. “You’re shutting out the outside world so that you can come up with newly generated internal ideas.”
Participants included 20 individuals between the ages of 19 and 30. Each wore three rubber stimulation electrodes on their scalps and completed two rounds of the Torrence Test of Creative Thinking with a half-hour break in between each session.
Both rounds included three 10-minute exercises. All participants received stimulation to their alpha waves for the first exercise. Half received the stimulation for the second exercise while the other half received placebo stimulation.
Participants who received the stimulation for the second round scored higher than the group who did not on “an overall measure of creative potential and strengths.” In addition, 12 of those participants were found to show “a pronounced increase in creative thinking.”
A follow-up experiment which used a different type of brain stimulation did not produce the same higher levels of creativity, suggesting that it is the focus on the alpha oscillations that produce results.
Researchers would like to see the information obtained used to treat psychiatric illnesses such as depression. Other studies have shown that individuals with the illness exhibit a decrease in alpha oscillation, so it is now thought that a boost to those brain activity patterns could possibly help to decrease depression symptoms.
“The ultimate goal is to use very safe, non-invasive brain stimulation — we use very weak electric currents that you can barely feel on the scalp — to treat psychiatric disorders by renormalizing electric activity patterns of brain networks,” Frohlich said.
In order to determine this, Frohlich has begun to conduct clinical trials on individuals who exhibit a major depressive disorder as well as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, in an effort to determine the effects of alpha brain wave stimulation.