Tag Archives: brain plasticity

Greater Hemispheric Specialization, not Integration = Increased Creativity

Rafeeque Bhadelia

Rafeeque Bhadelia

Increased connection between brain hemispheres has been considered essential for creative problem-solving and creative expression:  Previous research reported a relationship between the size of the corpus callosum connecting brain hemispheres.

However, a more nuanced understanding of brain structure is needed, based on contradictory findings from Cornell’s Dana W. Moore, collaborating with Rafeeque A. Bhadelia and Carl Fulwiler of Tufts and Suffolk University’s Rebecca L. Billings and David A. Gansler, teamed with University of Florida’s Kenneth M. Heilman, and Kenneth M.J. Rood of Boston University.

Carl Fulwiler

Carl Fulwiler

The team measured creativity in divergent thinking using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) for 21 right-handed male volunteers.
Divergent-thinking tasks provide scores for fluency, flexibility, originality, abstractness, resistance to premature closure, and elaboration, and additional scores for emotional expressiveness, story-telling articulateness, movement, synthesis of figures, humor, richness of imagery, and fantasy.

Paul Torrance

Paul Torrance

Results from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) explained almost half of the variance in creative achievement, measured by quantity of publicly-recognized innovative accomplishments and ratings by judges of each participant’s three most significant creative work products in research by Indiana University of Connecticut’s Jonathan Plucker.

Jonathan Plucker

Jonathan Plucker

Moore’s team also performed volumetric MRIs participants’ distributed inter- and intra-hemispheric network activity, and confirmed the relationship between visual–spatial divergent .

However, they found no significant relationship between the right hemisphere’s white matter volume (WMV) and creative production in divergent thinking tasks.

In fact, people with smaller corpus callosum in relation to total white matter volume scored higher on divergent-thinking tasks than those with larger corpus callosum.

Torrance Test of Creativity

Torrance Test of Creativity

Smaller white matter volume indicates more successful neuronal pruning during brain development, leading to increased neural connection and modular brain organization efficiency, they suggested.

Lateralized knowledge processing and momentary suspension of hemispheric modularity may account for creative illumination, incubation and generating divergent ideas, noted University of Southern California’s Joseph E. Bogen and Glenda M. Bogen.
Both processes were aided by decreased callosal connectivity and increased enhances hemispheric specialization in their observations.

Joseph E. Bogen

Joseph E. Bogen

Creativity and brain structures seem to have a reciprocal relationship:  The brain’s structure is reflected in creative performance, and can be changed by training in visual art.

As drawing skills improved, cortical and cerebellar activity patterns changed and prefrontal white matter reorganized, shown in monthly fMRI scans by Dartmouth’s Alexander Schlegel, Prescott Alexander, Sergey V. Fogelson, Xueting Li, Zhengang Lu, Peter J. Kohler, Enrico Riley, Peter U. Tse, and Ming Men.

Alex Schlegel, Prescott Alexander

Alex Schlegel, Prescott Alexander

In addition, participants showed increased divergent thinking and use of model systems, processes, and imagery, but not perceptual abilities.

These findings indicate that neural pathways are adaptable or “plastic” to enable creative cognition and perceptual-motor integration.

-*What do you do to change your brain function?

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Juggling as Brain Training

The physical skill of juggling can change the brain’s structure and function for the better, and may be a recommended therapy for brain injuries.

Bogdan Draganski

Bogdan Draganski

Volker Busch

Volker Busch

Bogdan Draganski, now of University of Lausanne collaborated with University of Regensburg colleagues Volker Busch, Ulrich Bogdahn, and Gerhard Schuierer, and Arne May, now of University of Hamburg  with Christian Gaser of University of Jena, to visualize brain plasticity among volunteers who learned to juggle.

Ulrich Bogdahn

Ulrich Bogdahn

Volunteers showed transient and selective structural changes in the left parietal lobe’s posterior cortex  and bilateral central temporal areas brain, areas associated with processing and storing complex visual motion on used whole-brain magnetic-resonance imaging.

Gerhard Schuierer

Gerhard Schuierer

This study demonstrates that the brain’s macroscopic structure can change based on stimuli like juggling, rather than being limited to functional changes in the cortex.

Arne May

Arne May

May and Gaser collaborated with University of Hamburg colleagues Janina Boyke, Joenna Driemeyer, and Christian Büchel in related research.

Christian Gaser

Christian Gaser

This time, they trained 25 people with an average age of 60 years in juggling for 12 weeks, and 25 control group volunteers were not trained.

Christian Büchel

Christian Büchel

The team conducted three MRI brain scans for each participant:

  • Before juggling practice
  • After 3 months of juggling
  • After another 3 months of no juggling.

Jugglers showed significant increase in the brain’s “gray matter,” nerve cells’ bodies responsible for information processing, located in the hippocampus (memory formation), bilateral nucleus accumbens (reward systems that may lead to action) and visual cortext’s middle temporal area.

Without practice during the three months after the training, none of the volunteers retained their ability to juggle and their gray matter declined to pre-training levels.

This suggests the value of continued practice in physical and cognitive skills to maintain brain structure and function.

Jan Scholz

Jan Scholz

University of Oxford’s Jan Scholz, Miriam Klein-FlüggeTimothy E.J. Behrens, and Heidi Johansen-Berg extended this research to demonstrate that people who learn to juggle also increased “white matter” containing axons that connect different cells, not just gray matter.

 The Oxford team conducted baseline brain scans using diffusion tensor imaging to reveal  white matter structure for 24 young men and women volunteers, who later practiced juggling for half an hour a day for six weeks.

Miriam Klein-Flügge

Miriam Klein-Flügge

The researchers compared brain scans of 24 non-juggling volunteers and found that the volunteer jugglers increased white matter in the parietal lobe’s intraparietal sulcus, which integrates vision and reaching and grasping in the periphery of vision.
Even less-skilled jugglers had similar increases in white matter, attributed to amount of time devoted to practice.

Heidi Johansen-Berg

Heidi Johansen-Berg

In contrast, the non-jugglers showed no changes in white matter after the six week period, suggesting value in practicing juggling to develop the brain’s structure and functioning to enable rapid, coordinated movement and body positioning.

Brain scans taken after four weeks without juggling practice showed that the new white matter remained and the amount of gray matter increased, showing some skill retention in the absence of consistent practice.

-*What physical skills do you develop as brain training?

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