The Loh Down On Science

The connection between concentration and creativity

Researchers place the electrodes of this tDCS system so that the current passes through the area of the brain being studied. Image courtesy of Penn News, 2013.

Thinking outside of the box or inside of the box—where is the box? Scientists now say it's in your head!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Our brain’s prefrontal cortex is thought to filter out irrelevant thoughts.  This helps us concentrate better in a chaotic world.  

But maybe this isn’t always helpful.  Like when we want to think creatively.

In fact, switching this filter off may actually increase “outside of the box” thinking. Scientists tested this theory by showing people pictures of everyday objects like hoses and baseball bats.  Most of them easily came up with the most common use of the object, but had a harder time thinking of other uses. 

Researchers then used a weak electrical charge to block the prefrontal cortex. 

Results?  Subjects whose prefrontal cortexes were blocked came up with basic answers a second faster than other subjects.  They also extrapolated new, creative applications more easily.  Using the bat as a rolling pin, for instance.

And using your car keys as chopsticks!  Okay, maybe not.  Come on back, prefrontal cortex, you’ve been missed!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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