Creativity and the Brain: How to Be a Creative Thinker
By Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D.

What do we know from research on brain activity involved in creative thought?

Key points

  • The book "The Creative Act" argues that creativity is a skill we can all use daily.
  • Creativity is complex and involves multiple brain regions.
  • Research shows that there are several ways to improve our creative thinking.

This post is part 2 of a series.

In my previous post, I wrote that, after being inspired by Rick Rubin’s book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, I decided to find out what is going on in the human brain that results in creativity. It turned out to be a very complex and complicated subject. That is mainly because it is difficult to clearly define creativity, and there are many different kinds of creative processes, such as visual art, music, creative thinking, etc.

Coming from the field of cognitive processes, I decided that I would concentrate on research related to brain activity involved in creative thought processes. Most of the time, cognitive creativity involves testing the person’s divergent thinking (generating possible solutions to the problem) or convergent thinking (finding a single, correct solution to the problem).

The review of research papers indicated that creative thinking (convergent and divergent thinking) requires the coordination of multiple brain regions, mainly the executive control network (simply speaking involves planning, organizing, problem-solving, and decision-making), default mode network (areas of the brain that are activated when we are letting our minds wander at rest), and salience network (a network that is involved in the awareness of the feelings associated with rewards). But, obviously, other parts of the brain are also involved, and this depends on the specific goal/outcome that we want to achieve.

I also promised my readers that I would try to find answers to the question of how to be a creative thinker. There are many suggestions on the internet, but let’s see what the research says.

Source: Pete Linforth / Pixabay
Source: Pete Linforth / Pixabay

You can learn how to meditate and practice it daily.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but the majority of the research papers in that area point to the daily practice of meditation as a way to improve creative thinking. It is not a surprise to me because I am a believer in meditation and do it daily. I also encourage all my patients to try to do it daily.

In a Chinese study (Ding, X. et al. 2014), 40 Chinese undergraduate students were assigned to three groups, a meditation group (30 minutes daily for 7 days), a relaxation training group, and a control group. Creativity performance was assessed by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The results indicated that the subjects in the meditation group improved their creativity performance on the divergent thinking tasks.

Research studies on meditation also indicate that it helps improve attention/concentration skills and emotional regulation and reduces stress and anxiety, so it looks like a good daily habit to start.

You can read aloud and do arithmetic calculations.

In a Taiwan study (Lin, WL. et al. 2018), 50 junior high students were divided into a training group or a control group. The training group was reading aloud and performing arithmetic calculations for 20 sessions. The control group played the game Tetris (a puzzle video game). The results indicated that the participants in the training group outperformed the control group in thinking and creative abilities.

You can do neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback is a computer-guided, noninvasive brain-function training based on electroencephalography (EEG) feedback. Neurofeedback is also called neurotherapy, neurobiofeedback, or EEG biofeedback, and it helps control involuntary processes such as muscle tension and heart rate. Usually, the person is responding to a computer display of her/his own electrical activity of the brain, but it may also simply be a sound stimulation. The most important factor is that neurofeedback focuses on helping a person train himself/herself to regulate brain functions.

In an Italian study (Agnoli, S. et al. 2018), 80 female students from the University of Bologna got three neurofeedback training sessions. The researchers also measured the participants’ lifetime creative achievement by using the Creative Activity and Accomplishment Checklist. The results were measured with the divergent thinking tasks (producing original and effective ideas). The results indicated an increase in both originality and fluency. The increase was particularly evident in participants with an initial low creative achievement level.

This is good news for people who believe that they are not that creative. You may get better with neurofeedback training sessions. Artists and athletes do this nowadays to enhance their performance.

You can do overinclusive thinking training.

Overinclusive thinking can be described as increased generalization and/or considering concepts that most people consider unrelated to certain categories, which provides an increased number of options. In a Taiwan study (Chiu, F.C. 2015), the researcher examined the effect of overinclusive thinking on creativity. Four experiments were designed, and the subjects were undergraduate students who were randomly assigned to an overinclusive thinking training group or a control group. The training group did better on the overinclusive thinking that is related to creativity. The fluency and originality performance were higher than in the control group and the insight problem-solving was also better than in the control group.

So, if you would like to be a creative thinker, you can try some of the ideas described above. Good luck on the road to creativity!

About the Author

Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist in private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico with over 30 years of clinical experience, and the author of How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy. Her book has won 2 International Book Awards and 5 National Book Awards.

Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin has received her first foreign translation. How My Brain Works was recently translated into Polish and published in Poland.



Rick Rubin. The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Penguin Press, NY 2023.

Ding, X. et al. “Improving creativity performance by short-term meditation” Behavioral and Brain Functions. Vol. 10, 2014.

Lin, WL. et al. “ Improving junior high students’ thinking and creative abilities with an executive function training program” Thinking Skills and Creativity. Vol. 29, Sept. 2018.


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