BY CHRISTA SGOBBA
When your brain’s in a rut, new ideas stall out. But there may be a way to pull yourself out of it just in time for your next brainstorm session.
Using a weak electrical current to stimulate a specific area of your brain can spark your creativity, research from Queen Mary University of London suggests.
The area is called your left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC. This part of your frontal brain is involved in most of your thinking and reasoning—in fact, it helps you solve problems by applying rules that you learned previously to reach a solution.
Problem is, when we encounter new issues that require a different vein of thinking, fixating on those past rules can block creativity, leaving us in a mental rut.
“To break this mental fixation, we need to loosen up our learned rules,” study author Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, Ph.D., explained in a press release.
So Luft and her team decided to see how blocking DLPFC would affect people’s reasoning. They gathered 60 people and broke them into three groups: The first had their DLPFC suppressed by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involved sending a weak, pain-free electrical current passed through saline-soaked electrodes on the scalp. The second had their DLPFC activated the same way. And the third had their DLPFC left alone.
Then, the people had to solve tricky math problems, which required them to relax the tried-and-true rules of algebra and arithmetic they’d otherwise need to apply.
The group who had their DLPFC suppressed were significantly more likely to solve the problems, the study found.
But they didn’t experience a blanket improvement: They were actually worse at solving other memory problems where they needed to keep track in their minds of a whole bunch of different items at once.
Related: 4 Instant Ways To Be More Creative
That means that it’s unlikely one kind of brain zap can lead to an all-around brain gain—despite what some companies selling at-home brain stimulators may want you to think, the researchers caution.
Want a simple way to boost your creativity now? Play the volume game: For any potential problem at home, give yourself an hour to come up with 100 possible solutions, suggests Anne Manning, an instructor in creative thinking at Harvard University.
People tend to get bogged down in overthinking an idea that they think seems promising, which stops them from generating new ones, she says. And the more ideas you have, the higher your chances of coming up with a game-changer. You can always cross out the crappy ones later.
Additional reporting by Rachael Shultz