Throughout human history, we have always wondered and hypothesized about where creativity comes from. Various theories have been presented: dreams, music, certain brain chemicals, and it simply comes from nothing. The last one suggests that this mystery may never be solved. However, it appears that maybe, recently, it has been solved. It turns out that psychologists from the University of Toronto believe they have found the biological basis for creativity.

A study by them published in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says basically that the brains of creative people are more open to outside stimuli. "Latent inhibition" is a process they describe as a way to filter out irrelevant information. Human beings and every animal in the kingdom have this as a survival technique to stay focused on what is important. For example: a person with normal levels of latent inhibitions would look at a yellow desk lamp and see only a yellow desk lamp and ponder only relevant information about it: a device that when switched on can provide light to a localized area. A person with low latent inhibitions would not only see a yellow desk lamp, they may also think of bananas, Spongebob Squarepants, or Spongebob Squarepants eating a banana, or possibly concoct a whole dissertation in their head about whether or not Spongebob likes to eat bananas, or how he could get them down in the ocean. That sentence could have gone on and on. The point is, this is how a creative person thinks (and I agree, as I am a creative person myself, but I digress). Through psychological testing, the researchers did conclude that creative individuals had low latent inhibitions.

A University of Toronto psychology professor, Jordan Peterson, one of the co-authors of the paper, says that creative individuals "remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment." He goes on to explain that the average,"normal" person sees an object, recognizes what it is and its function, and leaves it at that. A creative person, however, according to Peterson is "always open to new possibilities."

Before this study was done, psychologists had thought that the failure to screen out irrelevant stimuli was a sign of psychosis. But Peterson and his co-researchers Shelley Carson of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard PhD candidate Daniel Higgins, think that it also leads to original and creative thinking. When combined with high IQ and a good memory, low latent inhibitions is a positive thing, but this raises the question: "Well, considering what we've learned so far, what could be bad about low latent inhibitions?"

Peterson says that "If you are open to new information, new ideas, you better be able to intelligently and carefully edit and choose. If you have 50 ideas, only two or three are likely to be good. You have to be able to discriminate or you'll get swamped."

Shelley Carson says that low levels of latent inhibitions and an unusually high flexibility in thought "might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."

In the early stages of schizophrenia, for example, patients experience feelings of deep insight, sudden floods of mystical knowledge they did not have before. During this chemical changes take place that apparently lower latent inhibitions to where they can vanish altogether. Maybe this was why Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off or Kurt Cobain allegedly shot himself. Perhaps all artists are at risk for losing their minds. Those are just two of countless examples throughout creative history where creative types went off the deep end.

Peterson was excited about the results of the study. He feels that they have not only found one of the biological sources of creativity, but they've also gotten closer to solving a huge mystery he refers to as "the relationship between genius, madness and the doors of perception."

Maybe we'd better all keep our latent inhibition levels in check. But, don't ever let them get too high!

Source: Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com)

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