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When was the last time you recall being creative? Perhaps you painted a portrait or learned a new classical music piece. These are two categories commonly deemed creative. Creativity, a culturally fluid concept, is abstract and is reinforced by behaviors such as what we categorize as creative. The next logical question is: What makes an activity creative? It potentially relates to if the person comes to an “eureka” moment during activity. However, this is an incomplete explanation. As a result, it has baffled scientists in defining and understanding creativity in neuronal networks. Creativity appears as a commonly used concept but is difficult to articulate.

Consideration of the two modes of thought is a beneficial starting point to exploring creativity. Divergent thinking, or cognition that leads in numerous directions, is attributed to the formulation of new ideas. As a result, it is popularly assumed to be directly proportional to creativity level. Conversely, convergent thinking is defined as cognition that arrives at a single choice. It is a necessary skill associated with acing standardized tests like the ACT or GRE. Initial understandings of creativity proposed divergent thinking as the sole creativity component. However, recent research has proposed a dual mode of creativity that fuses divergent and convergent thinking. Both modes of thought are suggested to be two ends of the same spectrum and are necessary for successful creative thought.

The dual mode of creativity revolves around first using divergent thought and is followed by convergent thought. Divergent thinking allows a person to concoct a variety of new ideas. This is why it was initially thought of the only component of creativity. However, the ideas developed by divergent thought are narrowed down to a single one for that person to focus on. This is an act of convergent thinking, which seemingly makes it another defining characteristic of creativity. Without the addition of convergent thinking, there would be an eclectic collection of ideas with little focus.

Electroencephalograms (more commonly known as EEGs) have been used to identify the neuronal networks for both modes of thought. EEGs measure electrical activity in various parts of the brain. In divergent thought, the right temporal lobe has been shown to propagate the “eureka” moment. Additionally, there have been recorded EEG activity in the central and parietal regions. All of these areas contribute to creativity’s enlightenment aspect caused by divergent thinking. The areas active in divergent thinking appear to relate to semantic processing and recombination, which logically contributes to the intake of new ideas and output of innovative ones.  Convergent thinking, a different mode of thought, activates various brain regions that do not light up during divergent thinking. Prefrontal cortex activity, and other white matter structures in the brain, are associated with convergent thought. These structures allow for isolating a single best idea from a pool of various ideas.

The logical flow of creativity then makes sense if first divergent thought uses gray matter brain structures to produce a pool of ideas. These ideas are a recombination of the previously processed ideas. Then, convergent thought spawning from white matter structures identifies the optimal idea from the pool of ideas stemming from divergent thinking. 

However, it is also interesting to note that other external factors affect creativity. Robert Sternberg’s Investment Theory of Creativity states that intrinsic motivation, positive affirmation, and freedom of thought all play crucial roles in developing a creative mind. These environmentally controlled elements translate to neuronal production of creativity. Therefore, increasing all three factors can indirectly increase creativity. Ultimately, why do we care about creativity? The Threshold Hypothesis explores that high levels of creativity require above-average intelligence. Stimulation that requires creative thought in the developmental stages of a child’s life can then potentially increase the child’s future intelligence. Although IQ has been notoriously biased, this is worth further investigation. Additionally, ensuring our children have the best environment to be creative is also key to creating a smarter generation of people. Sternberg would argue that those who have become highly creative have had the right external factors to mold them. By being a part of the correct combination of factors, children can be better prepared for future intellectual endeavors with a strong background in creativity.