Most of us think about creativity and imagination in relation to the arts, such as writing, theater, or fine art. However, creativity and imagination play a role in virtually all vocations and hobbies. The two terms aren’t synonymous, even if they do often get mentioned in tandem. Imagination involves simulating mental pictures, new ideas and concepts, and sensations without input from the senses. Creativity, on the other hand, involves taking those visualizations and turning them into something new.
Both imagination and creativity are essential to problem-solving and finding workarounds for difficult situations. These traits are helpful in everything from software development to customer service. But have you ever considered what part of the brain is responsible for creativity and imagination?
WHAT PART OF THE BRAIN CONTROLS CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION?
The answer to “what part of the brain controls creativity and imagination” is as complex as the brain itself. No single area of the brain is solely responsible. Instead, there are several regions of the brain that contribute to what we call imagination and creativity. Among these are the following:
The Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that handles higher cognitive activity, such as making decisions and solving problems. Relatively recent research shows a link between the prefrontal cortex and creativity. In addition, a part of the prefrontal cortex called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), is charged with regulating emotions and self-reflection, both of which spur the creative process.
The Limbic System
The limbic system is a collection of brain structures located next to the thalamus and underneath the cerebral cortex. These structures help to control our emotions and our motivations. The hippocampus and amygdala, both parts of this system, are especially relevant to creativity and imagination. The hippocampus is charged with storing and retrieving memories, and the amygdala is responsible for processing emotions. In conjunction, these two parts of the brain help to form ideas.
The Parietal and Occipital Lobes
When you imagine what something or someone might look like (even if you’ve never seen it or them), that’s your parietal and occipital lobes at work. These two parts of the brain are responsible for spatial orientation and visual processing. It is also widely believed that mental images and ideas are formed in these two areas.
Neuroplasticity and Creativity
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to “re-wire” itself and thus change the way you view the world around you. In essence, you can teach yourself to be more creative. Neuroplasticity is how the brain heals after a traumatic brain injury or stroke. It’s also behind how we learn and retain new skills.
According to the tenets of psychology, creativity comes from divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is when we think laterally, which means thinking of various possible outcomes, solutions, or scenarios, not just the most expected one. Children are experts at divergent thinking (and, therefore, often more creative), since they don’t know what the most likely solution is to a given situation and, therefore, must consider all possible solutions.
The good news is that divergent thinking – and thus creativity – can be taught. Several techniques can boost your ability to think creatively. For example, take two unrelated objects, such as a car key and a thimble, and spend five minutes thinking about their possible associations. Another exercise involves thinking about alternative uses for everyday objects – like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel combing her hair with a fork.
Lastly, you can practice the SCAMPER technique. This psychological exercise is used for brainstorming and generating ideas. SCAMPER is an acronym for:
- Substitute – What can you change in a given situation?
- Combine – Does combining elements help the situation?
- Adapt – What existing element can you repurpose?
- Modify – What can you change?
- Put to another use – Should you use the project in another way?
- Eliminate – What do you need to get rid of?
- Reverse – Do you need to look at the situation from another point of view?
IMPROVING CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION
It’s a myth that your creativity and imagination are innate from birth. You can improve both in several ways, no matter your age. Some of these methods include:
Meditation can help you clear your mind so that you’re more receptive to divergent thinking and less consumed by the distracting minutiae of the average day.
Visualization is a part of divergent thinking. Actively practice envisioning different solutions and scenarios to make your mind more flexible and used to creativity.
Mind mapping involves putting down on paper the flow of possible solutions to a given situation. Sometimes, seeing something on paper aids in the overall visualization process.
It’s also helpful to set up an environment that encourages creativity. For example, look at how children’s playrooms have toys, posters, and art supplies to help the children explore their creativity. Adults can set up a similar environment, perhaps by a window with a scenic view, with creative elements and a calming ambiance.
CREATIVITY AND MENTAL HEALTH: REDUCE STRESS, ANXIETY, AND DEPRESSION
Creativity has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, specifically on reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. According to “Forbes” magazine, even just “coloring in those trendy coloring books” can improve your overall mental health. Making music, knitting, drawing, and any number of creative pursuits result in the production of dopamine, the hormone that makes us happy and a natural anti-depressant. Creating something also reduces your heart rate and helps lower anxiety. Even gardening can trigger this effect.
Creativity can also be useful in keeping your mind sharp and reducing your risk of dementia, as well as lessening the incidence of depression and loneliness.
CREATIVITY AND CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
Creativity is great for adults, but children can also benefit from increasing their creativity. According to “PBS Ideastream,” creativity “fosters mental growth in children by providing opportunities for trying out new ideas and new ways of thinking and problem-solving.” They add that creative play allows children to express their feelings and celebrate their uniqueness.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), creative art processes also support a child’s motor development (since they have to handle crayons, paint brushes, etc.) and “the development of self-regulation and self-control as the child focuses, makes choices and feels successful.” According to the NAEYC, children learn best when there is no “set” project but rather when they are given materials and the freedom to make anything they want.
EARNING YOUR PSYCHOLOGY DEGREE FROM JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY
Johnson & Wales University (JWU) offers various psychology-focused degree programs, including a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master of Science in Organizational Psychology, and a Master of Business Administration in Organizational Psychology. In the four-year undergraduate degree program, students learn about human behavior and what makes people act as they do. Graduates of the undergraduate program have the necessary training to pursue an advanced degree in psychology or go directly into the workforce in careers such as human resources, social sciences, sales, criminology, and industrial organization.
The MS in Organizational Psychology is a two-year program that builds on the knowledge students gained in their undergraduate work. This program prepares students for leadership positions in any number of industries. In this program, you’ll learn how to use psychological theories to resolve issues and conflicts in the workplace, how to use professional communication skills to influence individual and group behavior in the workplace, and how to institute ethical and socially responsible practices and policies within an organization.
The MBA in Organizational Psychology is similar to the MS program. However, this two-year degree program also stresses workplace dynamics, team building, and project management.
All three of these degree programs are offered at JWU’s Providence campus or may be completed 100% via online learning, which can be more convenient for students with full-time jobs and family and community obligations.