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Neuroscience of creativity: how to be more creative?

Published Apr 18, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024
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Are you a writer dealing with writer's block? Maybe you’re preparing to get your brushes out and paint a picture but struggling to find the right motive. Or you can just be a creative person searching for ways to be more innovative in your personal life and at the workplace. This article is meant for all of you. Discover what creativity really is, and learn about what can help you enhance it.

Can everybody be creative?

Creativity is defined as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others”[2]. Researchers in the field of creative thinking are providing us with an additional understanding of the brain processes that in turn boost our creativity. They revealed that your ability to adapt in various ways known as cognitive flexibility could enhance two critical forms of creativity; divergent and convergent thinking[2,3].

The ability of convergent thinking is a way for individuals to bring together pieces of information while attempting to solve a problem[4]. Divergent thinking is the ability to generate a variety of ideas and alternative solutions to problems such as brainstorming[4]. People with a better ability for convergent thinking are usually those who find the solution to a problem[3]. While you may naturally be more analytical or creative, you can learn to think in both ways.

Several researchers highlighted the strong connection between reward and creativity and tried to define which is the creative part of the brain[2]. They found that a brain messenger which is related to reward and attention called dopamine coordinates the merging of information into bundles which in turn stimulates creative thought and behaviour.

 

Tyrosine and dopamine explained

Wondering how your body makes your reward and pleasure chemical dopamine? It all starts with a natural nutrient called tyrosine which you can find in your daily food. Tyrosine is the building block of dopamine and can be found in food or taken as a supplement[1]. Higher tyrosine intake can increase dopamine release when you emanate pleasure from activities such as good food, sex and accomplishment. It is also connected with being alert and motivated.

The fact that tyrosine increases dopamine availability that, in turn, enhances cognitive performance has led to numerous studies on healthy young participants taking tyrosine as a food supplement[1]. Effects on cognition have been shown, in particular on working memory performance, but initial evidence also exists for the influence on executive functions such as cognitive flexibility. Find more about the link between creativity and the brain.

 

Tyrosine promotes creativity

So, what exactly is the neuroscience of creativity? Creative people sometimes use food to overcome mental blocks and get more alternative problem-solving solutions.

That is why scientists at the Institute for Psychological Research in the Netherlands researched whether performance in creative tasks is promoted by administering the food supplement tyrosine[5].

They hypothesized that participants’ convergent thinking will be more affected by the dopamine precursor compared to divergent thinking. People taking tyrosine food supplements would therefore do better in the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem as convergent thinking emphasises speed and relies on high accuracy and logic. 

To test their hypothesis, they studied the changes in mood rating, cognitive task performance, heart rate and blood pressure in 32 healthy adults. Half of the group was exposed to 2g of tyrosine powder mixed with 400 ml of orange juice while the other half was exposed to 2g of a neutral component called a placebo mixed with 400 ml of orange juice. 

They found that participants had better results for convergent thinking after tyrosine intake but the results were dependent on the participants’ body mass index known in short as BMI. 
They concluded that a dopamine boost is more beneficial for convergent thinking and that creativity can be enhanced by dopamine-related food supplements such as tyrosine.

Despite these interesting findings that dopamine and creativity are connected, researchers are aware of the study's limitations, such as the small sample size, and disregard for individual differences between participants. 

 

Boost your creativity with just your diet

Given you can increase dopamine levels and your creativity by eating right[1], you’re probably wondering what should you eat. Foods high in dietary tyrosine include proteins, such as meat, soybeans, and fish[6]. Here are a few examples of how much tyrosine you can find in various foods.

Food (100g) Tyrosine content (mg)
Greeted parmesan cheese 1700
Beef steak  1200
Raw peanuts 1000
Roasted chicken 990
Salmon 890
Whole egg  410

 Alternatively, you can also opt for a nutrition supplement to ensure sufficient intake of tyrosine. brain feed developed the world’s 1st natural 800mg tyrosine capsule from fermented corn. You can buy 60 capsules for £29.99 GBP here. New customers can also get 15% off by using the code ‘NEW15’ at checkout. 

 

“Moving breaks” as an additional dopamine and creativity booster

So how to be more creative, besides just by eating a tyrosine-rich diet? 

When you exercise, you provide a jolt to the brain's reward system, which stimulates dopamine levels and helps you feel motivated and maintain hope. Over time, regular exercise alters the reward system which can lead to higher circulating levels of dopamine[1]. But what about when we’re studying or working? 

The so-called “movement breaks” are paramount for your mental and physical health. A study from 2014 showed that, when people tackled mental tasks which required imagination, walking led to more creative thinking than sitting did[7]. Another study showed that participants who walked from the 4th to the 1st floor and back generated 61% more original answers than participants who used the elevator[8]. Researchers also found that 25-minute aerobic exercise improved the performance of convergent and divergent thinking[9]. 

 

You’ve read right; you can fight your creativity block with dopamine. Make sure to eat a lot of protein foods rich in tyrosine to help your body produce dopamine, and exercise to boost your dopamine extraction. 



References:

[1] Kühn, S., Düzel, S., Colzato, L., Norman, K., Gallinat, J., Brandmaier, A. M., Lindenberger, U., & Widaman, K. F. (2019). Food for thought: Association between dietary tyrosine and cognitive performance in younger and older adults. Psychological Research, 83(6), 1097–1106. 

[2] Khalil, R., Godde, B., & Karim, A. A. (2019). The Link Between Creativity, Cognition, and Creative Drives and Underlying Neural Mechanisms. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 13.

[3] Kim, K.H., Pierce, R.A. (2013). Convergent Versus Divergent Thinking. In  E.G. Carayannis (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Creativity, Invention, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, pp. 245–250. Springer. 

[4] Cropley, A.J. (2011). Definitions of Creativity. In M. A. Runco, & S. R. Pritzker, Encyclopedia of Creativity (Second Edition), pp: 358–368. Academic Press.

[5] Colzato, L. S., de Haan, A. M., & Hommel, B. (2015). Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking. Psychological research, 79(5), 709–714.

[6] Food by Tyrosine content (n.d.). Nutritional Value https://www.nutritionvalue.org/foods_by_Tyrosine_content_page_49.html

[7] Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), 1142–1152.

[8] Matsumoto, K., Chen, C., Hagiwara, K., Shimizu, N., Hirotsu, M., Oda, Y., Lei, H., Takao, A., Fujii, Y., Higuchi, F., & Nakagawa, S. (2022). The Effect of Brief Stair-Climbing on Divergent and Convergent Thinking. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 15, 834097.

[9] Zhao, Y., Qin, C., Shu, D., & Liu, D. (2022). Effects of short-term aerobic exercise on creativity. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 44.

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