report, page 2
Innovation Brain Patterns


what the brain does when innovating

S. Sandkuhler and J. Bhattacharya of Goldsmiths, University of London, investigated the brain activity that arises during four generally accepted components of insight.
  1. First a mental impasse occurs where a person realizes they have an unsuitable approach to a problem and can't think of any alternative.
  2. Second comes restructuring, bringing a broader consideration of potentially relevant knowledge.  This is where it is important for a thorough understanding of all relevant information.  Restructuring may involve unconscious retrieval and recombination of long-term memories.
  3. Next there is usually a better understanding of the problem and its solution.  Although the person is not yet aware of a solution, they often first get an intuitive feeling that an answer is attainable.
  4. Finally, the correct answer leaps into consciousness, seemingly without warning, and triggers the famous Eureka! feeling of success.
The research utilized hairnets holding electrodes over participant's heads to detect electrical responses which flare across the brain's surface as each participant was asked to contemplate and describe solving difficult word problems.
  1. The process may start even before with a mental preparation period, as a person sits quietly and does nothing at all, but actually establishes a contemplative resting-state of electrical activity in right-brain areas associated which broadened attention.  Deliberative thinkers also show resting-state activity associated with paying close attention to a few items in the left brain.  The actually conscious period of mental impasse consists of strong, low-frequency brain electrical activity in regions previously associated with a selective focus on one or a few items.  This is apparently when the brain realizes that solutions being considered won't work.
  2. Low-frequency nerve signals associated with reports of restructuring emerged roughly 1.5 seconds before participants suddenly thought of a solution.  This activity appeared at the front of the right side of the brain, an area implicated in organizing knowledge and using it to make plans.  Substantially weaker activity in the same region characterized cases of restructuring that led to failed solutions.
  3. A narrow range of high-frequency activity accompanied deeper understanding about a third of a second before reporting sudden insights, volunteers displayed a burst of high-frequency electrical activity in a right-brain region that integrates distantly related pieces of verbal and spatial information.
  4. The Eureka! moment occurs when the high-frequency activity breaks into two distinctive clusters within the same brain area.

The study was carefully fashioned to involve associating words so some of the findings may not describe non-verbal tasks and insight.  These brain responses do remain largely stable over time, but there may be a genetic set point for creative and insightful thinking that differs from one person to another.

Unfortunately, consciously trying to monitoring one's own thoughts during problem solving often squelches the four-step insight process.  But this is probably a little alike riding a bicycle or any other complex task.  To perform effectively one needs to learn the related tasks so well that they become subconscious.  One can't ride effectively while consciously deciding when to extend a leg to push on the peddle, then consciously relax it while pushing on the other peddle, steer and lean to maintain balance, and be fully alert for possible traffic hazards and such.  But there may be value in understanding all those processes for initial learning and later optimizing one's skills.

At this time there remains much to be understood about such creative mental processes.



This is the most open-ended proposed investigation on a web-site intended to encourage open-ended investigations!  Create something innovative!

Communicating technical information such as observations and findings is a skill used by scientists but useful for most others.  If you need course credit, use your observations in your journal to construct a formal report.



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created 4 April 2008
latest revision 5 April 2008
by D Trapp
Mac made