As I have mentioned in former blogs, creativity is crucial to education but unfortunately often left out. It is important for social survival and person´s wellbeing. Creativity is a constructive act which often is characterized by lingering in the moment. The diligence in which an artist creates his artwork is defined by intrinsic motivation that comes from oneself. Creativity is closely related to mindfulness, because e.g. there too it is the moment that is essential.
Wilhelm von Humboldt (1792) stated in his educational theory that the humanistic educational ideal is the equal education of all strengths, referring to teaching not only language and math, but also the arts. His principle can also be transferred to the brain. This would imply that not only a part of the brain should be trained but the whole brain.
I opine that our current education system puts mainly the emphasis on training the left hemisphere which is associated with cognitive processing. In order to train both hemispheres schools should try to implement creativity which is in its turn again improved by mindfulness.
At first I will take a look at the neurological processes underlying creativity and mindfulness. Takeuchi et al. (2010) examined associations between creativity and white matter structures across the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging showed significant relationships between creativity and white matter in or adjacent to the bilateral prefrontal cortices, the corpus callosum, the bilateral basal ganglia, the bilateral temporo-parietal junction and the right inferior parietal lobe as measured by a divergent thinking test. These regions are spread out throughout the brain and both hemispheres are involved connected by the corpus callosum. This divergent neural activity is congruent with the concept of creativity which states that information is integrated and diverse high-level cognitive functions are at work. Carlsson et al. (2000) confirmed that highly creative participants used bilateral prefrontal regions compared to low creative persons utilizing only the left hemisphere.
Chávez-Eakle et al. (2007) compared highly creative individuals (artists, scientists) and a control group measuring the brain cerebral blood flow while performing a verbal task from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Results indicated greater CBF activity both in the right and the left hemisphere showing that creativity is associated with bilateral cerebral contribution. Correlations of activity in certain brain areas with functionality suggest that creativity integrates perceptual, volitional, cognitive and emotional processes representing a holistic activation of brain areas.
Conversely, many different scientists take the stance that functional brain asymmetry is one main contributor to initiate an affective disorder (Davidson, 1992; Flor-Henry, 1983; Heller, 1993). An over-activation of the right hemisphere mediates negative affect (Schwartz et al., 1975) and therefore characterizes major depression (Debener et al., 2000), dysthymia (Henriques and Davidson, 1990) and depressed mood in general (e.g. Hagemann et al., 1999). Whereas damage of the left hemisphere can lead to depressive mood, lesions on the right hemisphere can contribute to euphoric reactions or indifference (e.g. Finset, 1988). These findings suggest that a balanced activation of brain areas contributes to health.
Focusing only on cognitive tasks that come along with left-hemisphere activity can have further negative implications. Devinsky (2000) recalls that several studies suggest that the right hemisphere is highly important for a sense of physical and emotional self. Lesion studies show that the right hemisphere is central for physical self-awareness and the person´s relation to the environment and affective state. All these findings underline the importance that both hemispheres should be trained. Furthermore educational institutes have a great impact on childrens´ development because of a greater neural plasticity. Structural and functional connectivity decreases with age. The so-called functional dedifferentiation indicates a general reduction in the distinctiveness of neural representations when older, and this goes hand in hand with a reduction of efficiency of processing at the neural level (Madden et. Al, 2009; Park et al., 2010; Goh et al., 2010).
How does mindfulness play a role in all this? Several studies demonstrate that meditational practice enhances creativity (Orme-Johnson and Granieri, 1977; Orme-Johnson et al., 1977; Ball, 1980) although others found only weak associations (Cowger, 1974; Domino, 1977). Colzato et al. (2012) investigated the impact of focused-attention (FA) and open-monitoring (OM) meditation on creativity. In FA meditation one is focused on a particular object whereas in OM meditation any sensation or thought is to be observed. Mindfulness integrates both aspects. Beginners start usually with focusing on the breath (FA) but later on you observe changes in yourself (OM). These meditational practices are then observed in terms of their effect on divergent thinking which means to generate new ideas (Guilford, 1967), and on convergent thinking, to generate one possible solution to a problem. Results show that OM meditation improves divergent thinking and FA meditation does not sustain convergent thinking.
I outlined why creativity needs to play a bigger part in education and that mindfulness can enhance creativity. An often addressed problem though is that creativity can only take place when someone is confident. In his TED talk David Kelley says that our society has to regain creative confidence and proposes that everybody is innovative but there exists a widely spread fear of negative judgment. Brown picks up this idea in another TED talk and claims that we are embarrassed for showing our ideas and the fear that is induced causes us to be conservative in our thinking. Same applies to the education system. The current system has worked out more or less well and trapped in our own security thinking we do not want to take action. Tim Brown also says that children at first are much more creative and do not care what other people think about them, but with getting older and internalizing the fears of society they lose their former freedom of play.
This implicates that creative confidence has to be built up at first and most crucially in school promoting creative and improvisational teaching styles with more impact of arts on the curriculum. Confidence is achieved by practicing mindfulness and enhancing a co-operative and friendly atmosphere in the classroom. Mindfulness and creativity bring about change, lead to better achievements in school and contribute to more confidence.
Madden DJ, Bennett IJ, Song AW. Cerebral white matter integrity and cognitive aging: contributions from diffusion tensor imaging. Neuropsychol Rev. 2009;19(4):415–435.
Park DC, Polk TA, Hebrank AC, Jenkins LJ. Age differences in default mode activity on easy and difficult spatial judgment tasks. Front Hum Neurosci. 2010;3:75.
Goh JO, Suzuki A, Park DC. Reduced neural selectivity increases fMRI adaptation with age during face discrimination. Neuroimage. 2010 May;51(1):336–344.
- Center for Childhood Creativity and UCSF Laboratory for Educational Neuroscience Form Partnership to Collaborate on Creativity in Children (prweb.com)
- Insight (healthymemory.wordpress.com)
- Your Brain on Creativity, SXSWi (slideshare.net)
- Divided Brain, Divided World? (kenanmalik.wordpress.com)