Last fall, when researchers had freestyle rappers go through an fMRI while rapping, they noticed that the prefrontal cortex -- the part of the brain responsible for self-editing -- shut down. This allowed, they said, words and ideas to arise unfiltered in the artists' lyrics. Their research, and similar studies done on jazz musicians during improvisation, implied that creativity itself is driven by that unrestrained state of mind.
- Domestic Violence Increases After Major Sporting Events
- People Who Exercise Have Larger Brains Later in Life
- Mummies Have Atherosclerosis, Too
For those who fall somewhere short of the creative artist label, finding a way to tone down the prefrontal cotex's activity should still theoretically help boost outside-of-the-box thinking. To test this, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania hooked 48 participants up to electrodes and sent a weak electrical charge through either their right or left prefrontal cortex (the left is particularly associated with the self-editing effect).
The process, known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tCDS), interferes with cell-to-cell communication in the areas through which the charge passes. So in effect, the researchers were turning off their participants' filters.
With their cognitive controls inhibited, the participants were given a challenge: look at images of ordinary objects and come up with unusual uses for them. Rubber hose? Use it to climb a tree. Manila folder? How about kindling for a fire.