In the early 1920s, the inventor of the electroencephalogram discovered “alpha waves” which were a specific type of neural oscillation. Scientists later connected these alpha waves to creativity in humans, leading us to today. A recent study in Cortex journal detailed how attaching electrodes to the scalp and sending a current of 10-Hertz enhanced the brain’s alpha wave movements. A low dose of electrical current has been proven to boost creativity by an average of 7.4%. The study carried out by the UNC School of Medicine hopes to build on these observations and use the approach to help people with neurological and psychiatric illness. The reasoning is that people with depression have impaired alpha movements and using this method may increase their brain activity patterns, potentially helping their mental health greatly. But how does the approach actually work?
The approach focuses on neural oscillations – the movement patterns that neurons generate. Alpha movements occur within the frequency range of 8 and 12 Hertz 9. These waves are most prominent when we shut our eyes and separate ourselves from the outside world, much like meditation. When we become alert again, the waves disappear and higher frequency waves take over. To test the idea in relation to creativity, the scientists used computer simulations to work out the best way to enhance these wave movements resulting in the finding that 30 minutes of 10-Hertz brain stimulation would be effective in enhancing the alpha wave movements.
Moving on from artificial simulations, the scientists then carried out experiments on 20 healthy adults by attaching electrodes on their scalps and gave them a series of simulations for different time periods before giving the participants the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking to gauge their creative abilities after each period of simulation. They started with sham stimulation which only lasted for 5 minutes before the participants were given a part-illustration and were asked to complete it themselves. Following on from this, participants were given stimulation for a full thirty minutes before being asked to complete the creative task again. Participants were unaware, at this stage, when they were being given actual stimulation and when they were in the control stimulation. The findings showed that the test scores were 7.4 percent higher than during the control stimulation. The study was then carried out again using 40-Hertz stimulation to confirm the part of the brain that controls creativity was being targeted and there was no increase in creativity, proving the theory. This is the first step in larger experiments and a great addition to this field of study, hopefully, a sign of greater studies to come.