Creativity is a complex human behaviour that has long been of interest to psychologists and neuroscientists. It’s defined as the ability to generate novel and valuable ideas, products, or services.
Research has shown that creativity involves an interplay of various cognitive mechanisms and is influenced by the brain’s dopamine system. The findings were published in the journal Psychological Research.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects both the prefrontal cortex and the striatum, two key regions of the brain that have been linked to creative thinking. Studies have found that dopamine levels can impact creativity by regulating the balance between persistence and flexibility, which are crucial for creative thinking. For example, a 2016 study showed that specific genetic markers related to dopamine receptors (D2 and D4) are associated with creative behaviour. A 2014 study demonstrated that tyrosine, a precursor of dopamine, improved creative performance compared to placebo treatment.
The relationship between dopamine and creative thinking was further explored in a recent study that focused on the relationship between dopamine levels and originality in idea generation. The study used a measure of dopamine level, called spontaneous eye blink rate (sEBR), as a proxy for striatal dopamine levels. Participants were asked to perform a task to measure their divergent thinking skills and the results showed that sEBR levels were associated with originality scores in a U-shaped pattern, with medium levels of sEBR being associated with the highest scores. The study also found that this relationship was mediated by flexibility, suggesting that an adequate dopamine level facilitates the generation of original ideas by encouraging the exploration of diverse categories.
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli, a clinical psychologist, explained: “Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter plays a crucial role in concentration and motivation. Focus, drive, and motivation are essential components of creativity; thus, it is suggested that dopamine can boost creativity. Too much dopamine though can lead to narrow, rigid thinking on a particular task or idea, and it is even associated with a higher risk of developing a mental illness whereas too little can lead to a lack of motivation and drive. Thus, it appears that for dopamine to positively boost creativity needs to be maintained within a ‘Goldilocks zone’ of just enough.”
Yet, the connection between dopamine and creativity is not as clear-cut. Dr Tzotzoli added: “Other studies suggest that being open to new experiences is the most consistent personality trait that predicts creativity in the arts and sciences. People who tend to be on the high end for this trait are more likely to embrace new adventures, ideas, and novel experiences. In other words, to think differently we need new and unusual input from our environment.
“So, there is a need for additional research to examine the interconnection between dopamine, the environment, and creativity, in order to gain a deeper understanding of their intricate relationship.”
It’s important to note that sEBR is an indirect measure of dopaminergic functioning and that more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between dopamine and originality in idea generation. Future studies could explore the effect of manipulating participants’ emotional states on sEBR and creativity, as dopamine is also associated with positive mood.
This study provides valuable insights into the role of dopamine in creative thinking. While the findings are limited in their capacity to establish causality, they suggest that an adequate dopamine level may play an important role in the generation of original ideas. Further research is needed to fully understand this complex relationship, but these findings are a promising step in the right direction.