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Creative Cognition: Unraveling the Neural Basis of Innovation 🧠

You’re probably much more creative than you think. Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

A hand holding a cloud

What is Creativity, Like Actually?

Less than half of individuals in the United States consider themselves creative. We set an unreasonable norm of what “creativity” actually is. Is it really about being able to create a beautiful abstract painting? Does “creativity” require writing eloquent song lyrics and poems? Is it true that less than half of us are creative or do we as individuals not believe in our creative potential? Most people are able to create something that has not been created before; meanwhile, “creative” is not a word many of us would use to describe ourselves. Oxford describes creativity as: “ the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” How can we take this definition and apply it outside of the way we might see it?

  • Well, Engineers must create innovative ideas that have not been created before in order to receive patents. You can’t just copy something someone else has done and expect to be considered “new!"

  • Medical Researchers must think outside of the box in order to find life-saving treatments to disorders. Many diseases or disorders that existed years ago are less of a concern to the creativity of clinical researchers.

  • Classroom teachers require creative ways to manage classroom behavior in an effective way. Lessons must be formed creatively to keep students engaged!

In everyday moments when we require problem solving, and out-of-box ideas lead to our success. Being able to think creatively is often considered “Divergent Thinking:” Thinking that deviates from a norm. How does one reach this in order to unlock their creative potential?

Let’s think about the Brain

The frontal cortex (you probably guessed, located in the front of the brain) has been considered the location of creativity for a LONG time. It is responsible for executive functioning and working memory, two functions that play a large role in creating those innovative ideas.

The hippocampus is where a lot of learning and memory takes place. We use our past experiences when we’re problem solving or coming up with innovative ideas. These past experiences stem from our declarative memory, mostly located in the Hippocampus.

The Cingulate Cortex is partially responsible for our sense of reward and punishment and emotional responses which is related to our ability and motivation to think creatively.

The thalamus is our brain’s relay station. It takes in all of the sensory information from the spinal cord and sends it to the right region of the brain to be analyzed and understood. New research has demonstrated that it is actually crucial for creativity due to the way that sensory information impacts creative cognition.

Nature & Nurture

Creativity is partially genetic. The apple that doesn't fall far from the tree is likely to apply here. Your parents are creative? You’re more likely to be creative. But this is not an end-all-be-all exclusively true statement.

With experience, our brains change (thanks to a process known as neuroplasticity!) The space between the neurons called the synapse is where messages are relayed, and the more times those messages are relayed, the stronger that chemical connection becomes! The more we harness our creativity, the stronger that function becomes due to literal changes in brain structure…. Oooo ahhh! Due to this, experience has a role in our creativity just as much so as genetics. Neuroplasticity is strongest when we are younger, but we are able to unlock this key function throughout our entire life, and heavily rely on it all of the time!

The more you push yourself outside your comfort zone to be creative, the more your brain will be able to push itself outside of its comfort zone to be creative!


There are so many ways to find that creativity within us, and how this looks is different for everyone. Creativity is applicable to every part of our life. Things as simple as mindfulness, physical activity, sleep, and nutrition make us more creative because of how they affect our brains. Daydreaming and using our (as SpongeBob says) Imaginaaaation make us that much more creative. When you’re in need of a solution, challenging yourself to find a more out-of-box answer itself can strengthen these skills.

And remember, you’re probably more creative than you think 😉


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