A study led by John Kounios, professor of Psychology at Drexel University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University has compared the brain activity of creative and non-creative problem solvers.
In the beginning of the study, the participants were made to relax quietly of seven minutes while their electroencephalograms (EEGs) were recorded to show their brain activity. They were not given any tasks to perform and were told to think anything they wanted to.
After sometime, the participants were asked to solve a series of anagrams - scrambled letters that could arranged to form words [MPXAELE = EXAMPLE].
The puzzles could be solved deliberately and methodically for trying out different letter combinations, or they could be solved with a sudden insight or 'Aha!' in which the solution pops into awareness.
The study participants indicated the way in which the solution had come to them, after each successful solution. On the basis of the way of their solution, the participants were divided into two groups. One, those who reported solving the problems mostly by sudden insight, and second, those who reported solving the problems more methodically.
Also, the resting-state brain activity for these groups was compared. Predictably, the two groups displayed noticeably different patterns of brain activity during the resting period at the beginning of the experiment, before they knew that they would have to solve problems or even knew what the study was about.
First difference was that the creative solvers exhibited greater activity in right hemisphere's several regions. The analysis of the study shows that greater right-hemisphere activity occurs even during a 'resting' state in those with a tendency to solve problems by creative insight.
The finding suggests that even the spontaneous thought of creative individuals, such as in their daydreams, contains more remote associations. Second difference was that the creative and methodical solvers exhibited different activity in areas of the brain that process visual information.
The pattern of 'alpha' and 'beta' brainwaves in creative solvers was consistent with diffuse rather than focused visual attention, which may allow creative individuals to broadly sample the environment for experiences that can trigger remote associations to produce an 'Aha! Moment'.
Therefore, the study reveals that the basic differences in brain activity between creative and methodical problem solvers exist and are evident even when these individuals are not working on a problem.
"Problem solving, whether creative or methodical, doesn't begin from scratch when a person starts to work on a problem. His or her pre-existing brain-state biases a person to use a creative or a methodical strategy," Kounios said.
The study is in the journal Neuropsychologia.