Can Creativity be Taught? Right vs Left Brain

6th February 2018

When it comes to design and branding, creativity is the sprinkle of magic dust which separates the unique ideas from the tired old formulas. But is creativity something we are born with, or is it simply a matter of learning?

American neuropsychologist Roger Sperry was awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his ground breaking research into the split-brain theory. His studies proved that there are significant differences between the left and right sides of the brain – namely, that the left hemisphere is logical, rational and analytical, while the right side is conceptual, imaginative and artistic; in other words, creative.

Sperry’s research has given rise to the belief that more logical people are governed by the left side of their brain, while more creative people had a stronger right side to their brain. “Are you ‘left brained’ or ‘right brained’?” is a question which you might have heard.

Are our creative powers really determined by how much we use our brain’s right side, and if so, can creativity be taught?

How the brain really works

While few experts have challenged Sperry’s findings on the differing functions of the left and right brain hemispheres, there is a now a growing body of evidence to suggest that creative or logical personality traits are not pre-determined at birth.

An important study was conducted by researchers at the University of Utah in 2013. Their brain imaging work showed that there was no evidence to suggest people are ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’. The project looked at “functional lateralisation” in the MRI brain scans of 1,011 people. The conclusion was that individuals do not “preferentially use their left-brain network or right-brain network more often”.

University of Utah neuroscientist Dr Jeff Anderson, the study’s lead author, explained: “It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network.”

‘An eye for design’

So if we are not born with this ‘eye for design’, how do we develop it? Anyone can learn how to use creative software, but those with the imagination and flair to translate into great design are much fewer in number. While we might not be able to be taught creativity, environment and experiences through childhood can equip some with the creative talent that allows them to offer a different way of doing things, and solve problems.

As ‘creativity scholars’ Michelle and Robert Root-Bernstein concluded in Psychology Today: “Creativity is not simply a body of knowledge. Creativity only manifests when a person with the right sets of skills and knowledge invents or finds an appropriate problem that cannot be solved using any existing approach, but which is amenable to solution by that person's unique set of experiences.”

The conditions for creativity

So what are the right conditions for creativity? Frustratingly, this appears far from clear. Looking at other professions, it is widely accepted that the vast majority of top lawyers come from the middle to upper classes, and have been educated to a high level. Meanwhile, in football, the lion’s share of the top pros are seen to come from working class backgrounds.

When it comes to creatives, it is harder to see a pattern. For example, musician Jimi Hendrix and impressionist Claude Monet were born into relative poverty, but by contrast, painter Michelangelo and singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran are known to come from comfortable backgrounds.

Perhaps that’s why many creative talents are seen as enigmatic. It is harder to see exactly where they get their ‘magic touch’ from and what makes them tick. In a business context, it’s why specialist designers are in demand.

Is it time your organisation benefitted from some creative spark? Speak to Brand51 today on 0117 261 5151.



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