Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

Creativity: When Intrusive Thoughts Are Not The Enemy

Photo credit: PsychCentral

Photo credit: PsychCentral

I was reading a fascinating article by Janice Wood in PsychCentral entitled, "Scientists ID Brain Chemical That Helps Stop Intrusive Thoughts," that describes a new scientific study from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. The study identifies a neurotransmitter called "GABA" that enables people to stop intrusive thoughts. People who suffer from anxiety, PTSD, depression and schizophrenia experience too many intrusive thoughts, even hallucinations. So understanding GABA could mean new treatments for these conditions.

But the study got me thinking about creativity. Not all "intrusive thoughts" are bad. Arguably, there is no "creativity" without intrusive thoughts. In fact, what is divergent thinking, a phrase associated with creativity, without them? 

An exaggerated example involves people with ADHD. Studies have shown that people with ADHD tend to be more creative. Their inability to focus contributes to their ability to create because they are more open to seemingly irrelevant information. Not great for doing taxes or paying attention in school, but fantastic for divergent thinking. And being open to irrelevant information increases the odds of that information colliding with existing thoughts to form new ideas.

So I applaud Professor Michael Anderson and his team of researchers from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. for this important discovery. But I do hope he or another team also analyze the role of GABA in improving creativity.

Could it be that all the other studies revealing ways to increase our creativity - walking, the color green, low light conditions, moderate white noise, etc. - somehow involve lowering this neurotransmitter in our brains?

Imagine the implications of being able to manipulate this neurotransmitter to slightly decrease our ability to stop "intrusive thoughts" so that we can improve our creativity? Obviously not to the point of causing schizophrenia or anxiety, but just enough to, well, open our minds a little.

Something to think about.

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