Adam Green: Creativity is a dynamic state, not just a static trait, which can and should be leveraged.
Ask questions. Be curious. A thirst for knowledge goes hand in hand with human creative intelligence. Adam Green, president of the Society for Neuroscience of Creativity (SfNC) and Director of the Laboratory for Relational Cognition at Georgetown University, has always been interested in philosophy of mind, as well as the inner physical workings of the brain and how we can boost its capabilities.
A historic partnership between the Sonophilia Foundation and SfNC is well underway to catalyze a basic understanding of the science of creativity. Adam defines the SfNC as “a body composed of the leading researchers in creativity neuroscience in the U.S. and Europe, and to some extent in Asia.” At its core, this leading global organization for creativity research aims to provide a unified space to share research on the neuroscience of creativity, expand this knowledge across disciplines, and spark collaborations between leaders in psychology, education, industry, and clinical neuroscience. Currently, SfNC researchers, including Adam, are investigating the convergences between observation and intervention, particularly looking at how the brain changes when people think creatively on cue.
“You need to know exactly when a change is going to happen if you’re going to capture it using neuroimaging,” Adam told Sonophilia. “By observing, we can see where and how and when changes in brain activity are associated with improved creative performance, creative cognition. Knowing that where and how and when allows us to target spatially and temporally, the kinds of interventions that can boost creativity.”
Being able to prompt a creative response in the brain makes it tractable using certain tools to study the brain, such as exogenous neuromodulation or transcranial direct current stimulation. More specifically, SfNC has been trying to push forward the idea of creativity as a state, rather than a trait. As Adam explained, an area at the far front of the brain called the frontal polar cortex is especially important for creative and analogical reasoning.
“How do we help each person reach the height of their own creative potential? First of all, approaching it as a dynamic thing, as a state variable, rather than just a trait variable, but secondly, identifying the dynamics that allow a person to go from thinking less creatively to thinking more creatively so that we can then leverage those dynamics.”
The implications for this research are not only to learn how the brain works but also to utilize that knowledge to improve cognition in relation to creative potential. This is massively interconnected with the evolution of artificial intelligence. As research into the field moves forward, Adam believes we should consider creativity both at the product and the process levels.
“This is where I think neuroscience can contribute, to look at creativity, not necessarily only as something that we evaluate in the standard terms of novel and useful… An individual product can be produced given certain constraints or certain programming by AI, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the adaptability or the universality of creative potential in an AI system… My sense now is that AI has quite a ways to go in order to match the universally adaptable processes of creative generativity that we value in the human brain.”
With this in mind, the Sonophilia Foundation and SfNC have tremendous potential for shared interest and growth. Adam was first introduced by a friend and another Sonophilian partner, the director at Penn State University’s Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab, Roger Beaty. He suggested that the two organizations would have several common interests. Measuring creative ability to generate new ideas and innovate within an educational context is undoubtedly one of those.
“One of the ways we’ve talked about moving forward is through Masterclass programs, and this is something that SfNC has already done. We did this just before the pandemic was shutting things down… at the Sorbonne. [It was] for folks in industry and in education to learn about what’s newest and what’s most real, as opposed to what is false and not worth investment in creativity neuroscience.”
When it comes to the neuroscience of creativity in educational contexts, the SfNC is advancing multiple initiatives. These include long-term goals of investigating which ways of teaching cause students to develop similar neural representations as those of their teacher and whether that neural similarity predicts how well a student remembers a concept or how productively they apply it later on. In the long term, they want to identify ways of training creativity that can lead to neural signatures reminiscent of those which high creative achievers have.
“I think we need to develop better ways of measuring creativity in younger students in ways that are relevant to the kinds of subject matter that they’re studying, especially science,” Adam noted. “That is one of our goals, one of our charters, and through the funding and support of the National Science Foundation, we’ve held events that have been intended to bring together creativity researchers with educators… The nexus between creativity and education deserves a lot of our attention.”