The Impact of our Environment on Creativity
Humans are unique species because we have the ability to adapt to any environments. This ability sets us apart from other animals because we have invented many tools that enable us to alter our way of living to any environment: clothing, medicine, agriculture, food and so on. Whether humans chose to engage in the environment is up to them. Even though we have the capability of adapting, how do humans assess the effectiveness of an environment for their creative output? An enriched environment excites brain cells, making them more active and allowing for the growth of new dendrites, which then increases the surface area of the brain cell, creating more space for brain cells to make new connections. Therefore, everyone has a unique collection of connections between brain cells and these personal experiences create individuality.
It has been notice through brain functioning images that, “the front of the brain is associated with the highest, most deeply human abilities—what are sometimes called ‘‘controlling’’ and ‘‘executive’’ functions of the brain” involving the prefrontal cortex region which plays a prominent role in assessing ones ability to create. It has been implied that the prefrontal cortex is one of the main players when performing the computation that transforms the novelty into creative behavior. One might agree that in order to generate novel creativity one must be in an enriched environment. This could be because there is more information and social interaction, which could influence one to make remote associations and have more possibility for solutions during problem solving. However, enriched environments can be stressful, which could limit the performance of ones creative ability and increase their noradrenergic system, which is responsible for concentrated attention.
Norepinephrine is induced by stress, and this concentrated attention could prevent thinking outside the creative box within the networks that store cognitive representations . Thus, how is creativity shaped by knowledge and age? How does exposure to different environments affect ones creative abilities? By exploring the neuroscience aspect of the stages, as well as, the brain regions that are involved during creative thinking will help assess the effects of socially enriched and isolated environments on creativity. This will inform how both socially enriched and isolated environments allow for creative growth. Thus, relating back to the idea of how important it is for a species, like humans, to adapt to new environments.
There are two types of environments, enriched and isolated. Enriched environments allow for excitement in the brain, as well as the growth of knowledge and personal experience. Isolated environments have less excitement but allow for concentration of knowledge, as well as assessing a solution for the given problem. Both environments play different roles within influencing creative potential of the brain, resulting in the idea that both are needed for the successful significance of creative problem solving. However knowledge along with age and the connections that are made in ones brain may have more control in evaluating how successful an environment can be.
Both environments have been studied through humans and animals. The study of environmental impact on rats has demonstrated that enriched environments can modify structural components of a rat brain at any age . This study included an experiment, which tested the impact of the brain and behavior through the interaction of rats within three different environments, standard, enriched and impoverished .
The enriched environment contained 12 rats, in a large cage along with 5 or 6 objects to play with, which were changed 2 or 3 times throughout the week to provide newness and challenge, which is essential for enriched environments.
The standard environment involved 3 animals that were kept in a small cage, while the impoverished environment housed 1 animal in a small cage with no objects . The results indicated that, “clearly the cortex from the enriched group had increased in thickness compared with that living in standard conditions, whereas, the brains from the impoverished group decreased compared to the standard.”
This study demonstrates the idea that creativity grows and strengthens in response to enriched environments more then isolated ones. The social interaction is crucial for an enriched environment to be successful because, “the combination of social conditions and frequent exposure to new objects were necessary for the animals to gain the full effect of enrichment.” However, isolated environments allow for the organization of thought and can put forth clarity during problem solving or novelty of thought.
Researcher have suggested that, “high cortical arousal induced by stress is often associated with conscious attempts at problem solving, but this high arousal might suppress the emergence of remote associations, and a lower degree of cortical arousal might allow unusual associations become manifest. Stress is associated with high levels of norepinephrine and relaxation with low levels.” Thus, an isolated environment that allows for relaxation and clarity can be beneficial for the creative mind.
Nonetheless, the research of creativity is mostly theoretical at this point; when it comes down to it, every brain is different. Therefore, since no brain is the same reinforces the hypothesis that isolated environments along with enriched environments can both be beneficial towards a creative output. Along with differences come different preferences toward ones reaction of environments.
Environments, age and knowledge have the ability to shape ones creativity as well as individuality, thus how does insight and knowledge along with environment affect ones creativity? When creating artistic work, whether its, dance, drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. one is taking the known and reconstructing it by furthering an idea through their personal experience and knowledge into unknown territory. Our species is able to adapt to new environments, and we use these environments and personal experiences to further our individualism. Creativity comes from a place of expansive knowledge and personal experience that one can associate through unusual pairings, and deconstruction, however these parings only have validity if there is significance; it has to have meaning in order to drive other connections in your brain , this is the success of creativity and knowledge.
Significance refers to the idea that in order for creativity to be successful it has to be original, innovative, novel and appropriate . The significance of creative work does not only apply to the one producing it; it affects the ones who observe the work. One way to gauge the significance of creativity is by measuring how far the work has been developed. Creativity involves many processing modes, along with emotion, personal experience and personal knowledge. Therefore, the development of any subject will always be furthered differently, whether the significance is correct or not is up to those who observe and are able to learn from the work.
Before proceeding with the idea of how knowledge, age and how environments impact ones individually, there have been recent studies about the brain and creativity. The recent studies have shown that there is no difference between the right and left hemisphere, “the latest findings suggest that the right brain/left brain distinction is not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain.” When thinking about the creative process, the idea of a single region in the brain that controls ones creativity seems to be very restrained, which is exactly the opposite of creativity. Creativity has many definitions however; the most important one to follow is the idea that creativity “is the ability to fluently solve problems with original, innovative, novel and appropriate solutions” , relating to the significance aspect of creativity. For example, the imagination involves “constructing dynamic mental simulations based on personal past experiences such as used during remembering, thinking about the future, and generally when imagining alternative perspectives and scenarios to the present”. Thus, implying that there cannot be a specific brain region for the process of imagination because when one thinks about the past, future or the thought process of others, activates multiple regions within the default network. The default network is described as interacting subsystems, which includes the medial temporal lobe and the medial prefrontal lobe and this network is engaged when one is internally focused on tasks, like envisioning the future or attempting to perceive what others are thinking.
What are the stages that creativity goes through?
Researcher Graham Wallis presented a four-stage process that describes what happens when people approach a problem with the intent of solving it creatively. First is the preparation stage, defining the problem and gathering the information that is needed for the solution and verifying its acceptability, second is the incubation stage, allowing ones mind to work through the problem which can last from minutes to years, third is the illumination stage, where ideas arise from the mind and provide a base for a creative response, this stage also involves seeing the entire concept all at once, and finally the verification stage, which demonstrates what emerged in the illumination stage and satisfies the need and criteria defined in the preparation stage .
This creative process involves many interacting cognitive processes; supporting the idea that creativity does not occur in one region of the brain. The brain works as a whole to get the job done, when creativity comes into play there is a combination of cognitive processes that furthers one’s knowledge. Thus, the idea that only region of the brain is responsible for creativity seems discerning since different brain regions will be activated contingent upon what the brain is being asked to do and the stage that it is in.
For example, there are systems in the brain that communicate with the body, which are known as the Autonomic Nervous Systems. The two major components of this system are the sympathetic system, which controls our reaction to scary or frightening acts; it is also known as the arousal system and the perasympethtic system, which help to preserve ones baseline body functions, also called the “quiescent system” since it relaxes the body. These systems are known for being how the body and brain connect, and for this to happen, these systems that extend throughout the body must be connected to some structure of the brain . Thus, if the arousal system is more strongly activated, it seems probable that this reaction will overpower the quiescent system allowing for one to be more anxious.
However, researchers stated that, “It turns out the interaction between the two systems is more complex than simply regulating a balance between them. If you over stimulate one of the systems to maximum activity, then the other system, rather than being suppressed, actually becomes more activated…thus, at the height of extreme activity in one system, there is eruption of activity in the other.” This relates back to the idea that isolated environments can be beneficial towards organizing and performing a creative thought. Anxiety and stress allow for more concrete ideas, which decreases the possibility for one to make remote associations.