Noradrenergic modulation of creativity

Effective regulation of flexible and focused attention enables people to enhance their own creativity. In this research we study the function of the locus coeruleus noradrenaline system (LC-NA) during the creative process. The LC-NA has projections into the areas in the pre-frontal cortex that are involved in the regulation of attentional selection and working memory. There, noradrenaline increases the signal-to-noise ratio of incoming information. Continuous moderate LC neuron firing in the absence of task demands (tonic) indicates an increase in the likelihood that attention is drawn to task-irrelevant information; whereas fast LC neuron firing in direct response to task demands indicates an increase in the likelihood that attention is focused on task-relevant features. Using the measurement of the eye’s pupil size, a proxy to measure noradrenaline, our studies show that LC-NA activity predicts creative task performance during idea generation and divergent thinking. Specifically, tonic LC-NA activity predicts the generation of an original ideas whereas phasic activity predicts the generation of effective ideas. Furthermore, tonic and phasic LC-NA activity dissociates insight and analysis during convergent thinking. However, LC-NA activity does not predict performance during convergent thinking. This suggests that people who are able to regulate their own LC-NA activity effectively, might be able to enhance their own creative task performance; and adds to emerging evidence of the neuropsychological underpinnings of creativity.

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