Creativity and Madness: The Brain Of The Independent Creative

We've all heard the stereotypes about creative geniuses that existed outside the bell curve. Vincent Van Gogh's famous ear incident, and Frida Kahlo's battle with depression are just the tips of the iceberg. Sometimes, it can seem like a creative person without an eccentric nature is the exception.

Psychologists have long been enthralled with the creative set. Starting in the 1960’s, researcher Frank X Barron conducted experiments with the likes of Truman Capote, Frank O’Conner, and other high-profile artists to determine what traits are present in highly creative people. Contrary to the popular thinking of the time, intelligence was not a driving force among creatives. Instead, Barron found that the traits common to most independent creatives were: introspection, a preference for ambiguity and complex situations, a high tolerance for disorder, an ability to make sense out of chaos, independence, non-traditional ways of thinking, and a willingness to take risks.

Barron went on to conclude that highly creative people were “both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier, and yet, adamantly saner, than the average person.”

Alrighty, then.

Luckily, research has come a long way since the 1960’s. In 2001, neurologist, Marcus Raichle identified the brains’ default mode network, or imagination network, as it is commonly called. This area encompasses many regions in the brain, including the temporal, frontal and parietal lobes. According to Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman, authors of Wired To Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative mind, the main functions of this network in the brain are: “personal meaning-making, mental stimulation, and perspective-taking.” (Read: emotional part of the brain.)

However, as Gregoire and Kaufman point out, the default mode network works in conjunction with our brain’s executive functions of blocking out distractions, and focusing in on our internal experience. (Read: logical part of the brain.)

Interestingly, it seems, that the brains of creative people are more adept at mixing these two, seemingly opposite networks in a productive way. What would be confusing and overwhelming for a “normal” person is just fuel for the creative fire for an artist.

So, maybe the research of the 60’s wasn’t that out-of-date after all. Maybe, creative minds really are a neural paradox, both incredibly complex and simply the best.

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