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article imageCan creativity be boosted through electrical stimulation?

By Tim Sandle     Jun 8, 2017 in Science
London - Is it possible to boost creativity by applying electrical stimulation to the brain? One group of scientists state they have found a way to improve creativity through brain stimulation.
The news comes from Queen Mary University of London. The technique involves temporarily suppressing part of the frontal brain, called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). This brain region is involved with most of our thinking and reasoning. The DLPFC is not an anatomical structure, but rather a functional one.
To attempt to modify the DLPFC, researchers used a method called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This process involves moving a weak constant electrical current through saline-soaked electrodes. These electrodes are positioned over the scalp of a person, and the process modulates the excitability of the DLPFC. Based on variations with the direction of the current flow, the DLPFC can be temporarily suppressed or activated.
READ MORE: Matter of perception: How creative people perceive the world
Electrical brain stimulation is a form of electrotherapy and technique used in research and clinical neurobiology to stimulate a neuron or neural network in the brain through the direct or indirect excitation of its cell membrane by using an electric current.
To try out the process 60 volunteer subjects took part. Before the application of the electricity each subject was tested on their creative problem solving ability. Similar tests were run after treatment. Different treatments were applied to different subjects, either:
DLPFC being suppressed,
DLPFC being activated,
DLPFC being unstimulated (no actual current applied).
The post-study results revealed that the participants who received the intervention had an enhanced ability to 'think outside the box'. This was based on the participants being given so-called "matchstick problems" to solve. Some of these problems were categorized as hard. For these puzzles the participants had to relax the learnt rules of arithmetic and algebra in order to solve the problem (in other words, think creatively). The findings revealed the participants whose DLPFC was temporarily suppressed were more likely to solve the so-defined hard problems.
Discussing the study outcomes, lead researcher Dr Caroline Di Bernardi explains: "We solve problems by applying rules we learn from experience, and the DLPFC plays a key role in automating this process." She adds: "It works fine most of the time, but fails spectacularly when we encounter new problems which require a new style of thinking -- our past experience can indeed block our creativity."
While the findings are fascinating, further research is required not least to see if there are any on-going problems with the use of electrical stimulation of the brain.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research paper is titled "Relaxing learned constraints through cathodal tDCS on the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex."
More about Creativity, Brain, electrical brain stimulation, Psychology
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