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What is insight? Let’s ask Horizon


If you’ve ever asked yourself: What is insight? How does it work? You’ll be interested in tonight’s BBC2’s Horizon, which explores new research on the areas of the brain that play an important part in creative thinking.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is the slowing down of brain function which helps creativity flourish. Horizon examines how it is that in certain parts of the brain are less packed, less organised, processes slow down, making it more likely for ideas to connect with each other: an important factor in divergent thinking.

Rex Jung, a leading scientist in the emerging field of positive neuroscience, explains how white matter makes this happen. In his 2010 TEDx talk, Jung shared the results of research which showed illnesses impairing the frontal lobe resulted in the patient becoming more creative. This showed a correlation between thickness of brain matter and creativity.

Jung’s talk concluded that this space to think and develop ideas – the indirect thinking time that gave rise to Archimides’ Eureka! insight moment as he stepped into the bath and discovered displacement – is perhaps not optimised in schools. Without it, we could be hampering the next generation of innovative thinkers.

Using neuro-imaging technology, Horizon shows how researchers can see an idea – an insight – taking place, giving them the information to help reproduce the right variables for creativity to thrive.

Other researchers featured on the programme include psychologist Jonathan Schooler, who has published numerous papers on mind-wandering and creative incubation.

As well as white matter, look out for mentions of the right anterior superior temporal gyrus (RH aSTG) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). If you hear all three, you may shout CREATIVE BRAIN BINGO!

It’s great to see creativity getting some serious airplay on terrestrial TV. As David Butcher reviews the programme in the Radio Times: “[Horizon is] a leisurely meander through recent research, with interesting stuff on why closing your eyes or mowing the lawn can help creative leaps.”

We cover a lot of this content in our Understand workshops.

Photo Credit: Tekniska museet

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