Flowering Your Brain

22 Jul

by Suzanne Faith

THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN CREATIVITY AND THE BRAIN

“Recently there has been increased interest in understanding how engaging in creative endeavors seems to improve cognitive performance. Using advanced neuroimaging, scientists are able to see the creative process in action. Multiple areas of the brain connect as they become stimulated simultaneously during the act of creating. New and alternativeneural pathways are formed as information is observed moving through the brain. Multiple intersecting pathways connect various regions of the brain,forming the necessary links to evoke memories, tap into motor skills, andrevive the senses, awakening the brain to work in harmony.

Listening to an old musical favorite can cause us to remember not onlythe words to the song, but also who we were with, what we were doing, andeven the smell of the food or the weather. All of these senses, which havebeen stored in different areas of the brain, awaken in a single moment simply by hearing the song. As the brain works to recreate the experience of a particular moment in time, cognition and a sense of well- being are also improved. Understanding how sensory experiences stimulate these connections in the brain can provide opportunities to consciously strengthen the internal communication system in our brains.

In light of this new understanding, neuroscientists at universities across the country and around the world have been exploring the use of creativeexpression as a powerful tool to impact the stimulation and creation of new neural networks in our brains. Since the communication system within thebrain operates on the strength of these neural networks, the more pathwayswe create, the greater the capacity we have to connect to new experiences with memory data that has previously been stored. The formation andstrengthening of

new neural networks help preserve the brain’s ability to communicate within itself and build reserves. Research findings on creativity and Alzheimer’s disease suggest that individuals who have continued to challenge themselves mentally over the years have stronger and more numerous neural networks, which may help to delay the onset oft he disorder in those who are at risk for it.

As the baby boomer population ages and people in general are living longer, the search for ways in which to help preserve and maintain cognitivestatus is increasing, focusing on the desire to continue enjoying physicaland mental wellness. The general advice, “use it, or lose it,” includes recommendations ranging from engaging in an aerobic activity for at least thirty minutes three to four times a week, to challenging one’s self with the mental the activities of crossword puzzles or Sudoku, or even learning a new language or skill.

The popularity of coloring books, with designs to color for any skill set and interest is evidence that the concept of creative expression is going mainstream. Coloring is marketed as a way to become mindful, to be in themoment, which allows the stress of the day to melt away. While this is true, the motor skills used to color, and the choices of color one decides to use, as well as the design one is coloring, all have an effect on sensory information going into the brain. This is another example of how engaging in a simplecreative exercise can help link multiple areas of the brain to worktogether.

Exploring new skills or various modes of creative expression may not onlyhelp improve one’s mental capacity, but it may also hold the key to workingsuccessfully with those who have memory impairment. Every day, our brainreceives and processes thousands of sensory signals that help us interpret our experiences in the world. What we see, taste, smell, hear, and touch at any given moment is what creates the experience, while our brain decides whether it wants to store the experience for future reference. The smell of fresh baked bread or chocolate chip cookies can elicit a flood of memories that call the brain to attention. The color combination of red and greenforever reminds us of Christmas, just as hearing a long-forgotten song can transport us back in time. These are sensory experiences that have been stored and can be reawakened through re-exposure to the original sensory stimulus that created them.

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