MAY 28, 2015 12:56 PM PDT

Could Cerebellum Be Creativity Center?

A Stanford University study, described in Scientific Reports and reported by Laura Sanders in Science News, shows that creativity may emanate from the brain's cerebellum, once thought to be a steady workhorse. Action inside that part of the brain increased as people inside an fMRI scanner created Pictionary drawings as part of the study.
A brain scan experiment indicates the possible role of the cerebellum in getting creative juices flowing.
Although the brain scan results may not confirm that cerebellum activity tracks with creativity, the study offers the impression that the brain region plays some role in it. The cerebellum, a structure located in the back of the brain, is more typically considered the body's movement-coordination center.

Neurologist Jeremy Schmahmann of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study, says his clinical observations support the results, because two of his patients were artists who had their creativity sapped by strokes that damaged the cerebellum (

The study was a collaboration between the Stanford School of Medicine and it Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. It is the first to find direct evidence that the cerebellum is involved in the creative process. The study also suggests that "shifting the brain's higher-level, executive-control centers into higher gear impairs, rather than enhances, creativity."

According to the study's senior author, Allan Reiss, MD, professor of radiology and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who holds the Howard C. Robbins Professorship in Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, "Our findings represent an advance in our knowledge of the brain-based physiology of creativity. We found that activation of the brain's executive-control centers - the parts of the brain that enable you to plan, organize and manage your activities - is negatively associated with creative task performance."

Dr. Reiss believes that "Creativity is an incredibly valued human attribute in every single human endeavor, be it work or play. In art, science and business, creativity is the engine that drives progress. As a practicing psychiatrist, I even see its importance to interpersonal relationships. People who can think creatively and flexibly frequently have the best outcomes."

The genesis of the collaboration was 3½ years ago when Grace Hawthorne, MFA, MBA, a consulting associate professor at the design school who teaches a design-thinking skills course called "Creative Gym," and one of her students approached Dr. Reiss and asked if he could objectively measure creativity, in order to confirm that Hawthorne's course can enhance it.

According to Dr. Reiss, "We didn't know that much about how to do that, so we decided to design a study that would give us baseline information on creativity's underlying neurophysiological processes."

Other Stanford co-authors of the study are former postdoctoral scholar Eve-Marie Quintin, PhD; psychology graduate students Eliza Kienitz and Nicholas Bott; visiting researchers Zhaochun Sun, PhD, Yin-hsuan Chien, MD, and Daniel Wei-Chen Hong, MD; and research associate Ning Liu, PhD.
The study was funded by a grant from the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Program, which is affiliated with Stanford's Center for Design Research (
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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