Cognitive flexibility in Tunisia
©2006 Charlene Brown
In addition to idea generation, true creativity involves evaluating your options. A study* was designed to distinguish between the generative and evaluative components and measure them separately. Students from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver were asked to design illustrations for book covers on an fMRI-compatible drawing tablet while inside a brain scanner. The students were asked to come up with ideas for their sketches for 30 seconds and then spend 20 seconds evaluating what they had sketched.
Activity in various areas of the brain was measured throughout the exercise. The results supported the hypothesis that the posterior (temporal and occipital) lobes of the brain are more associated with generative thinking and the prefrontal cortex is more associated with evaluative thinking. It also appeared that creativity involves a rapid shifting between these two processes, supported by highly connected anterior-posterior networks, cognitive flexibility.
Other researchers have developed mental exercises that could stimulate this cognitive flexibility – including performing common tasks in an unconventional manner. The example given in the reading that we downloaded for the course involved following an unconventional sequence of steps to produce a sandwich…
That’s why I chose the painting of Monastir, Tunisia to illustrate this point. It was compiled from two photos taken from the fort in the centre of the picture. The first, looking north, was reversed so that the painting appears to be the view from the far distance, beyond the Bourghiba Mausoleum looking south toward the fort. I often rearrange the components of a landscape to improve the composition of a painting, but a complete reversal like this is unusual. Perhaps I’ll try it more often.
* Ellamil, M., et al., Evaluative and generative modes of thought during the creative process, NeuroImage (2011), doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.08.008