Alpha Brain Waves May Suppress Obvious Ideas to Foster Creativity

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Creative thought requires that we break away from more obvious ideas, but how this actually happens in the brain has remained a mystery.

Now scientists from Queen Mary University of London and Goldsmiths, University of London, have discovered that alpha brain waves play a vital role in suppressing our habitual thinking modes in order to allow access to more unusual ideas.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that these brain waves — alpha oscillations in the right temporal area of the brain — increase when we need to suppress obvious and misleading associations during creative tasks. This can occur in both convergent thinking (systematic and logical) and divergent thinking (free flowing and spontaneous).

The research team found that when they stimulated the right temporal part of the brain in the alpha frequency, it increased the brain’s ability to override more obvious associations in both types of creative thinking. They did this by applying an electrical current to the brain through a non-invasive technique called transcranial alternating current brain stimulation (tACS) which causes minimal to no side effects or sensations.

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