Skip to content

The Creative Brain

The brain was once considered to work like a machine with different sections responsible for specific types of thinking with little consideration given to the function of creativity. In recent times this model has been updated. Consequently, the creative brain can be better understood as being the very essence of being human. 


At a surface level, creativity refers to the creation of something that is new or novel. It’s an innate human activity that is nuanced by the who, how, and why something is being created. For instance, a child drawing a person out of their imagination by using simple shapes and lines can be seen as an act of creativity. Whereas the same drawing may not be new or novel to an adult with more drawing experience. 

Creativity can cross over countless mediums from the obvious like visual arts, music, and literature, to less obvious applications like developing scientific experiments, new recipes, or solutions to complex social issues. 

Ultimately, regardless of circumstances, creativity can be defined as a problem solving activity in which prior knowledge is analyzed, and then reinterpreted to address a new problem or scenario in accordance with an individual’s skills, emotions, and sensory experience. 

Brief history of Brain Function Theories 

Image source

The prevailing thought of brain functions during the Renaissance period was that there were three main categories, as illustrated in the above drawing by an anatomist from Bologna, 1503. The circle on the forehead was understood to be responsible for common sensory input (sight, smell, taste, sound) and imagination. The middle region is attributed to fantasy and estimation, and the area at the base of the head for memory and motion. During this period, some speculated the brain was the seat of the soul, while others argued it was in the heart. 

Image Source

A few centuries later, Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), invented Phrenology, a theory that supposes a person’s character can be analyzed by observing physical features of a skull. Further, there are 27 sections of the brain which he viewed as organs responsible for functions such as hope, cautiousness, destruction, spirituality, imitation, time, and so forth. 

The concepts behind phrenology were somewhat of a craze until the 1900s when assumptions were not supported by rigorous scientific studies. Still, the idea that specific areas of the brain were responsible for certain types of thinking remained a basis for neurological investigations. 

Image Source

In the 1960s the first neuroscience departments in universities began to emerge. Aided by computer technology, experiments to determine how the brain really works began earnestly. Out of these findings came the theory that each hemisphere had its own unique functions, the left being characterized as logical and the right as creative. 

Dr Michael Gazzaniga (1939-) has been a fundamental player in investigating the phenomenon of left and right functioning. His work has then been picked up by others, like Betty Edwards (author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain) who have promoted the idea and blasted it into common every day consciousness. 

The hard and fast rule that people can be categorized as “left brained” or “right brained” thinkers has become to be known as a truism within popular culture in much the same way that the three celled brain was considered authentic during the Renaissance, and phrenology was given credence in the 1800s. The reality is, brain functions are not easy to define in accordance with specialized locations. 

Neurological evidence now indicates that creative thinking is a whole brain activity. According to Psychology Today, “New research on the neural mechanics of creativity highlights how fluid brain connectivity—as indexed by less segregated neural networks—fosters creative thinking.”

These findings are supported by fMRI experiments that show higher levels of creativity are apparent when connections between the cognitive control network, default mode network, sensorimotor network, salience network, and visual networks are more integrated. 

Given that creativity can be applied across a range of human behaviours and situations, there is an element of logical reasoning behind the premise that creativity requires multiple parts of the brain to function in unison with each other. 

Arguably, humans are the only creatures (or creators) on the earth who are capable of creative thinking. It could be argued that animals like spiders and beavers have a creative impulse, however, I would argue that webs and dams are instinctive behaviours associated with survival; although this 

Humans, on the other hand, are capable of creativity in measures far beyond any other living being. 


The Beginnings of Brain Localization: Franz Joseph Gall and Phrenology 1800-1824 «the History of Neuroscience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *