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May 11, 2020

Creative Spurts

Aha! + Ahhh: For many, creative insight triggers a mind-expanding rush of pleasure.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Evolved to solve.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Creativity. Coming upon new, fresh, different idea combos for (Sound effect: cartoon 'throw' sound) what life throws at you. Aha! Moments -- creative insights that have helped humanity survive and thrive. But plenty of other species don't have aha! moments and do just fine, so what drove the evolutionary development of creativity in humans?

In a study at Drexel University, researchers monitored participants' brain activity as they solved anagram puzzles. You know, unscramble letters to find the hidden word. The researchers noted whether players solved using insight or by methodically rearranging letters.

Study subjects were pre-screened for their reward sensitivity -- meaning how motivated they are to gain rewards rather than simply avoid losing them. Those with low reward-sensitivity had nearly as many creative insights as those with high sensitivity, but only the highly reward-sensitive showed an additional burst of brain waves in part of the brain's reward system. For those folks, aha! Becomes aaaahhh -- rushes of pleasure that may help explain humanity's creative achievements.

Seeking insights 'cause it feels good. Like cashing in points on your brain's rewards card. Your miles may vary.

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