AIF Blog

Where Creativity Begins: At REST

Mar 18, 2015
CATEGORY: Health, Science
Nancy Andreasen
Neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen has been breaking new ground with her research into the brain and creativity for decades. Author of one of the first studies on the connection between creativity and mental illness, Andreasen’s most recent study delves intensively into the brains of some of today’s most famous scientists and artists, including Pulitzer Prize winners and six Nobel laureates, to better understand what common traits creative geniuses share and how their brains work differently from those of average people.
Andreasen spoke at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival about some of her exciting discoveries, which have been featured in The Atlantic and Fast Company, among other publications. Some of the things she’s learned so far are that creative people tend to be polymaths (meaning they have wide-ranging interests and skills), autodidacts (they like to teach themselves rather than be spoonfed information), prone to mood disorders, and altruistic. Interestingly, she’s also found that brain patterns are very similar in artists and scientists.
In the following selection from her AIF talk, Secrets of the Creative Brain, Andreasen explains what she’s discovered about the neural basis of creativity, which is thought to occur mainly during a state called REST (random episodic silent thought). 
“This state that we call REST is a state in which the mind is working very actively, at least partially at an unconscious level, and it is a resource for creativity, for dreams, and for religious experiences,” she says. "During REST, association cortices are freely communicating back and forth, without being subject to reality principles."
Andreasen’s hypothesis, her Eureka moment, is that creative people “have an especially rich repertoire of associations [in their brain activity during REST] … and an enhanced ability to see connections that others can’t.”
Posted by Catherine Lutz
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