Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creative Thinking

This article at PLoS caught my eye.

Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities Are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals

The main finding in the present study is a negative correlation between divergent thinking and D2BP in the thalamus, thus confirming our hypothesis for this region. There was no significant correlation between divergent thinking and D2BP in the striatum or in the frontal cortex. Furthermore, there were no relations between Raven scores and BIS scores, or between Raven scores and D2BP, which is in line with previous findings showing that divergent thinking is essentially separate from measures of intelligence.

Based on the current findings, we suggest that a lower D2BP in the thalamus may be one factor that facilitates performance on divergent thinking tasks. The thalamus contains the highest levels of dopamine D2 receptors out of all extrastriatal brain regions [33], [45]. Decreased D2BP in the thalamus has been suggested, firstly, to lower thalamic gating thresholds, resulting in decreased filtering and autoregulation of information flow [31] and, secondly, to increase excitation of cortical regions through decreased inhibition of prefrontal pyramidal neurons [46], [47], [48]. The decreased prefrontal signal-to-noise ratio may place networks of cortical neurons in a more labile state, allowing them to more easily switch between representations and process multiple stimuli across a wider association range [49]. This state, which we hereforth will refer to as the “creative bias”, could benefit performance on tasks that involve continuous generation and (re-)combination of mental representations and switching between mind-sets. The creative bias could also explain why the different measures of divergent task performance correlate: A decreased signal-to-noise ratio in thalamus would decrease information gating and possibly increase fluency; decreased signal-to-noise ratio in cortical regions should better enable flexibility and switching between representations; similarly, the associative range should be widened and selectivity should be decreased which might spur originality and elaboration.

It can be speculated that aberrant thalamic function may promote unusual associations, as well as improved performance on divergent thinking tests in healthy individuals, in the absence of the detrimental effects typically associated with psychiatric disorders. In other words, thinking outside the box might be facilitated by having a somewhat less intact box.

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