Talent or brain fart? Most creativity can be attributed to mental errors, researchers say

November 4, 2019

Is what we choose to label as “creativity” merely a random mistake in decision-making or reasoning? Similarly, when we choose to veer away from what we have done in the past—rejecting well-known, “safe” options—is it because we are risk-takers or visionaries, or can it be assessed as a failure in cognition?

A study published in the October edition of the journal, Nature Neuroscience,  found that, if our brains excelled at evaluating all options, we would stick to those that have succeeded for us in the past.

Indeed, according to a report by Fast Company, researchers at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, designed a study in which they took brain MRIs of 100 people playing a slot-machine game that presented two options—one of which had won them money in previous tests.

They found that the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that regulates decision-making, lit up when participants made errors in reasoning and that many of the subjects’ “curious” choices were a result of the brain’s failure to reason.

This is kind of a big deal. Curiosity has been long hypothesized by psychologists to be an exploration of choices with uncertain outcomes, a sort of rational process of weighing out the options.

Interestingly enough, principal investigator Valentin Wyart told Fast Company, “Uh-uh.”

This finding is important, because it implies that many choices in favor of the unknown are made unbeknownst to us, without our being aware of it: Our participants have the impression of choosing the best symbol and not the most uncertain, but they do it on the basis of wrong information resulting from errors of reasoning,” Wyart said.

Wyart points out that errors are not inherently bad: they fuel many of humanity’s great discoveries, such as Christopher Columbus’ accidental navigation to America, and evolution, which often derives from random genetic variation.

Research contact: @FastCompany

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