Is Creative Decision Making a Right-Brain Activity?

One article of faith in creativity research and practice is that whereas the left brain governs analytical, rational thinking, the right brain underlies creative thinking. However, judging from a recent review of neuropsychology research, this accepted wisdom is false.

Neuropsychologists study creativity by asking people to engage in creative thinking, which they measure in different ways. In the Remote Associates Test, individuals indicate what word links a series of three words (such as Falling Actor Dust; Salt Deep Foam). Other tests ask individuals to compose creative stories, write captions for cartoons, or provide unique solutions to unusual hypothetical problems. While participants are thinking creatively, the researchers assess their brain activity using various techniques, including MRI.


A recent review of 72 studies found right brain activity was not associated with creative thinking. The authors conclude, “Creativity, or any alleged stage of it, is not particularly associated with the right brain or any part of the right brain.” Indeed, the review showed it was difficult to isolate creative thinking in any one region of the brain.


Another review of 45 studies reached the same conclusion, noting that the diverse ways in which creativity and brain activity were measured made generalizations difficult.

These results do not discourage all neuropsychologists. One neuroscientist, Oshin Vartanian, summed up the literature as follows: “Initially, a lot of people were looking for the holy grail. They were searching for the creativity module in the brain. Now we know it is more complicated.”


Source: A. Dietrich and R. Kanso, “A Review of EEG, ERP, and Neuroimaging Studies of Creativity and Insight,” Psychological Bulletin 136, No. 5 (2010), pp. 822-848; R. Ardena, R. S. Chavez, R. Grazioplene, & R. E. Jung, “Neuroimaging Creativity:A Psychometric View,” Behavioural Brain Research 214, No. 2 (2010), pp. 143-156; A. McIlroy, “Neuroscientists Try To Unlock the Origins of Creativity,” Globe and Mail (January 28, 2011), downloaded May 20, 2011 from</ulink></source></sidebar>