Creativity May be Driven by Alpha Brainwaves

Developing creating solutions or ideas to problems requires us to look past the simple or readily accessible ideas. How this suppression happens in the brain has been a mystery, but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA offers clues to how this might happen.

The study found that naturally occurring alpha brainwaves, or oscillations, increase when individuals need to suppress traditional thinking to better access more innovative or cognitively distant results. What I found interesting is that the study showed that externally inducing alpha oscillations using tACS (transcranial alternating current stimulation) on the right temporal lobe generated more creative results for both “out of the box” style problems as well as divergent thinking. Most of the work on electrical current-based cognitive enhancement has resolved around tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), making this tACS result somewhat unique.

tACS versus tDCS

The differences between tACS and tDCS are fairly obvious – alternating or direct current. tDCS requires a longer stimulation time (20 min vs 2-5 min) and larger non-invasive electrodes. The following graphic comes from The Stimulated Brain – Cognitive Enhancement Using Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation:

The Stimulated Brain – Cognitive Enhancement Using Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation (Page 38, Figure 2.1) edited by Roi Cohen Kadosh

While this work is early, electric stimulation continues to have promising results for cognitive enhancement, far outpacing pharmacological methods. Have you tried tACS or tDCS? If so, what results have you experienced?


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