Adolescents tend to be less creative than adults, according to neuroimaging study

A recent study used brain scans to examine how creativity changes with age. The researchers found that adolescents were less creative than young and older adults. They also discovered that the brain’s executive control network plays a role in creativity. In adolescents, greater connectivity in this network was associated with higher creativity, while in adults it was associated with lower creativity. The study was published in brain and cognition.

Creativity is the ability to generate new and useful ideas. In psychological research, it is typically assessed by examining a person’s divergent thinking abilities. Individuals with high divergent thinking ability are those who are able to find many different solutions to problems (given that the nature of the problem allows for many different solutions). In addition, to be creative, a person needs good working memory, intelligence, and the efficient functioning of a number of other cognitive processes.

Creativity seems to develop from childhood through adolescence. It also appears that it naturally decreases with age. Similarly, divergent thinking generally decreases between middle and late adulthood, but remains relatively stable thereafter.

Studies have shown that the groups of 56 to 74 year olds, 75 to 85 year olds and 86 to 98 year olds do not differ in their divergent thinking skills. However, one should keep in mind that there is an increasingly pronounced survival effect in people of such old age – participants, and people in these categories in general, are only people who survived to old age, while many of their born yearmates did not.

Study author Jordanna A. Kruse and her colleagues wanted to examine the influence of age on creativity from adolescence to late adulthood. They also wanted to study the brain networks associated with creativity. To this end, they conducted a neuroimaging study in adolescents and adults.

A total of 180 participants took part in the study: 86 adolescents (11-18 years), 52 younger adults (19-35 years) and 42 older adults (50-81 years). Of these, 111 participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at rest. The remaining 69 participants only completed the creativity task.

All participants completed the “Egg Creativity Task” where their divergent thinking was assessed. This task asked participants to come up with as many creative solutions as possible to prevent a chicken egg from breaking when it falls from a height of 30 feet. You had 10 minutes to create these solutions.

Researchers chose this task because it requires no expertise and can differentiate between people who are only considering obvious solutions based on their existing knowledge and those who are exploring less common options (indicating higher levels of creativity) . Based on the answers to the egg task, the researchers assessed ten different aspects of creative thinking.

The results showed that, on average, young adults had higher creativity scores than adolescents in almost all aspects. Older adults scored higher than adolescents on five aspects of creativity, while their scores were similar on the other aspects. Younger adults performed better than older adults on one aspect of creativity, while their scores were similar on the other aspects.

The fMRI scans revealed that connectivity in the brain’s executive control network is linked to a group of aspects of creativity termed “expansive creativity.” This association was positive in adolescents but negative in young and older adults. This means that adolescents with better connectivity in the executive control network tended to be more creative, while adults (both younger and older) with better connectivity tended to be less creative.

Functional network connectivity is the degree of synchronization or coherence in the activity patterns of multiple brain regions during fMRI scans. The executive control network is a functional brain network involved in higher-order cognitive processes, specifically the control and coordination of other brain networks. It is made up of a series of interconnected brain regions including the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and parietal cortex. This network is linked to functions such as attentional control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and decision making.

ÔÇťAdolescents tended to be less creative than young and older adults, particularly with respect to variables related to expansive creativity rather than sustained creativity. This supports the three system model of creativity, which points to the overcoming fixation effect [the tendency to only focus on obvious solutions, those that come to mind the most easily] by exploring far-reaching solutions [less obvious ways to solve the problem] overall leads to greater creativity. At the neural level, the study reports new findings indicating that functional integrity of the executive control network is positively associated with more divergent thinking in adolescents and negatively in adults, with these differences between adolescents and both young and older adults being significant.” , the study researchers came to the conclusion.

The study makes an important contribution to the scientific understanding of creativity and its neuronal correlates. However, there are also limitations that must be taken into account. Notably, all analyzes were based on only a single brain scan (per participant) and performance on a single task. In addition, the sample size was relatively small. Results obtained by examining performance on different creative tasks and at different times and among larger groups of study participants may not produce the same results.

The study, Changes in the Brain’s Creative Capabilities and Underlying Network Connectivity Across Life, was authored by Jordanna A. Kruse, Casey S. Martin, Noah Hamlin, Emma Slattery, Eibhlis M. Moriarty, Lucy K. Horne, and Barbara Ozkalp . Poincloux, Anaelle Camarda, Stuart F White, Jacob Oleson, Mathieu Cassotti, and Gaelle E Doucet.

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