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Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, once said “creativity is just connecting things”. There’s truth in that but there is another source of creativity, too – the ideas that simply pop into our minds. In ancient times, these were seen as gifts from the muses or gods. Today, people sometimes describe such ideas as coming from an inner voice or even a character separate from themselves.

 

The creative ability to make connections between things is something neuroscience can improve using a brain stimulation technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which passes a weak electric current through the brain via electrodes on the head. But could the same technique also boost creativity by summoning inner voices?

 

When I experienced tDCS in our research laboratory I merely felt a slight warmth and itch on my scalp. The technique is considered safe and adverse effects are relatively minor. Of course, it is not something to be attempted at home.

 

It works by temporarily increasing the activity of the part of the brain under the positive electrode, decreasing it under the negative electrode, and altering connectivity within the brain. It has been used for a range of purposes, from boosting performance in Air Force personnel to treating psychiatric disorders.

 

Researchers have also discovered it can increase creativity. A recent study found it allowed people to make more “outside of the box” connections. This study placed the positive electrode over the left frontopolar cortex, which is involved in processes including multitasking, reasoning and memory. Participants who experienced tDCS were able to make more creative analogies.

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