|Eleven areas of the brain are showing differential activity levels in a Dartmouth study using functional MRI to measure how humans manipulate mental imagery (credit: Alex Schlegel)|
Where is imagination located in the human brain?
Imagination lies in a widespread neural network — the brain’s “mental workspace” — that consciously manipulates images, symbols, ideas and theories and gives humans the laser-like mental focus needed to solve complex problems and come up with new ideas, Dartmouth researchers conclude in a new study.“Our findings move us closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species and provides such a rich internal playground for us to think freely and creatively,” says lead author Alex Schlegel , a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.“Understanding these differences will give us insight into where human creativity comes from and possibly allow us to recreate those same creative processes in machines.”
In the study, 15 participants were asked to imagine specific abstract visual shapes and then to mentally combine them into new more complex figures or to mentally dismantle them into their separate parts.Researchers measured the participants’ brain activity with functional MRI and found a cortical and subcortical network over a large part of the brain was responsible for their imagery manipulations.The network closely resembles the “mental workspace” that scholars have theorized might be responsible for much of human conscious experience and for the flexible cognitive abilities that humans have evolved.
Creative thinking can be of different forms such as imagining new visuals, sounds or coming up with new ideas. In this study, researchers looked at how brains manipulate images. For example, imagine an elephant with the head of a turkey climbing up a building in New York City. A creature like that doesn't exist and elephants certainly can't climb buildings. However, the brain can manipulate different images and morph them into a single image and make it appear in our mind's eye.
Shlegel and his colleagues asked 15 participants to look at pictures of abstract shapes, then recall the shapes in their imagination while they were undergoing an fMRI scan. Some participants concentrated on maintaining the image of the shape, while others were asked to change the images in their mind, either imagining deconstructing the shapes into requisite parts or combining them with others to make a new shape.
|Imagining Shapes (Schlegal et al)|
The researchers expected the mental manipulation activity to involve the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes imagery. By looking at activity in the visual cortex, scientists in the past few years have been able to decode the type of image that a person is imagining--something scarily akin to mind reading. But the visual cortex wasn't the only region involved--they found 12 "regions of interest" that seem to be involved in manipulating imaginary shapes. "We saw differences in activity all over the brain when we compared to control conditions," Shlegel says. "It does seem rather than being a single area responsible for imagining or manipulating, it seems like lots of areas have to work in concert."
Dartmouth researchers addressed this dilemma issue by asking: How does the brain allow us to manipulate mental imagery? And then asked participants to do things like imagining a bumblebee with the head of a bull. This would seem like an easy task for most of us, but it actually requires the brain to construct a totally new image and then make it appear in our mind's eye. Artists are able to transfer these images to a canvas and writers can use words to conjure up mental images in our minds.Dartmouth researchers addressed this dilemma issue by asking: How does the brain allow us to manipulate mental imagery? And then asked participants to do things like imagining a bumblebee with the head of a bull. This would seem like an easy task for most of us, but it actually requires the brain to construct a totally new image and then make it appear in our mind's eye. Artists are able to transfer these images to a canvas and writers can use words to conjure up mental images in our minds.The conscious manipulation of mental representations is central to many creative and uniquely human abilities. How does the human brain mediate such flexible mental operations? It turns out, a widespread neural network performs complex mental manipulations on the contents of visual imagery."For example, if a person is asked to imagine a banana spinning around quickly and getting bigger or smaller, he can do so effortlessly," said Alex Schlegel. "When you start to look at more complex cognitive process like imagination or creative thinking, it's not just isolated [brain] areas that are responsible, but communication of the entire brain that's required," Schlegel said.http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201309/the-right-brain-is-not-the-only-source-creativity