Creative Writer's Brain
What happens to your brain when you are brainstorming a plot or writing a story — Based on scientific evidence
Did you know— The brain activity during writing is similar to that during sports or any game?
Please, don’t ask me, “Then, why writers are paid less and sportsmen in millions?” LOL
This is not my theory, but a scientific study claims.
In their scientific work involving two groups of subjects— Professional and novice writers, Neuro-scientist Martin Lotze and his co-researchers (2011) have observed an increased activity in the wide network of regions of the writer’s brain during the creative writing process.
But not all brains worked the same.
The professionally trained writers showed similarities with people skilled at more physical or skilled actions like music or sports.
Thanks to scientific technology— Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) for this interesting finding.
Earlier, opinions and theories on writer’s brain were based on the questionnaire and verbal description of writers about process of their thinking, creating, writing and editing. But now, neuro-scientists are looking into the writer’s brain with the help of advanced technology. This is indeed a boon in the 20th century.
Dr. Lotze and team have faced some initial challenges in the use of fMRI scanning technology because for the perfect functioning of scanner, the subject needs to be still.
Therefore, Dr. Lotze had to develop a software that would take into account the errors caused by breathing or head movements.
In the previous scientific studies, scientists asked the writers to make a plot in their head while their brains being scanned by MRI. But Dr. Lotze had better plans. He wanted to record the brain activity while the writer is actually writing while simultaneously thinking or creating or plotting the story. This was indeed a good scientific strategy.
Are you imagining a writer sitting inside a scanner with a laptop or a computer and typing on his keyboard?
Oh,no! Don’t. That was not the case, because the magnetic field rays would then cause havoc…
Dr. Lotze designed a custom-built writing desk made of plastic that was positioned over the writer’s hips while the subject was lying supine. The paper was clipped to the sloping surface of the desk. A assistant standing behind the scanner successively changed the paper sheets between the scanning tasks.
Wonder how the writer can see the paper, which is positioned over his hip and when he is lying supine and head cocooned inside a scanner?
Well! Dr. Lotze had an answer.
A double-mirror system was attached to the head coil to enable visual contact of the writer with the paper sheets. The righter’s arm was supported by cushions to restrict movements during the task.
Four Different Tasks:
The writers were given four different tasks during the experiment.
Task 1 Reading — The writer was asked to simply read the text of about 120 words for about 60 seconds.
Task 2 Copying — The writer was then asked to write the first part of the text (about 35 words) for sixty seconds.
Task 3 Brainstorming — 30 words of the previous text was presented for about 60 seconds during which the writer brainstormed ideas in his head to continue the story in the next task.
Task 4 Creative writing — The writer was asked to write a new, original story as continuation of the previous text copied from the storybook.
I have presented here the tasks to show how well the neuro-scientists have designed the experiment to study all aspects of writing, though with restricted time.
Before I share the interesting scientific findings, I would like to give a basic idea about certain brain regions, which become active while writing.
Brain Lobes (Cerebrum in specific)
There are four lobes in each half of the cerebrum of brain, which is called as cerebral hemisphere.
Frontal lobe- Blue color
Parietal lobe-Yellow color
Temporal lobe-Green color
Occipital lobe-pink color
A writer should love this area. In fact, this is the script writer of our brain.
This is a special region located in the front and lowest part of frontal lobe (blue color part). It's highly activated in the left hemisphere if the person is right-handed and vice-versa.
You may understand its function better if you know, what happens if it is damaged —
You can’t speak. You can’t articulate words. You can’t communicate in any language.
It plans what you have to speak, corrects you if you make errors. So if it's damaged, you can’t stick to grammar and syntax rules.
Hence Broca’s area is a script writer of your brain.
Hippocampus (Shape resembles sea horse)
Present in temporal lobe (Green color).
Some may want to curse it if haunted by memories of past— even those dating back to childhood. But yeah! But most of our childhood memories or past memories bring pleasure. We should thank this sea-horse, hippocampus.
It stores your memory, transforms short-term memory into long-term.
When you drive your car from your home to office daily, do you want google map’s help? No. You use this spatial memory stored already in your hippocampus for long-term.
You remembered and delivered every single dialogue during your stage play and got applause and appreciation? Yeah! Thank Hippocampus for the storage of declarative memories.
Learning and memory are its primary functions, there are more to add to its credits, but I am restricting it to the topic of discussion.
Caudate Nucleus (resembles tail)
This wonderful cluster of neurons located in the cerebrum is your feedback processor — it processes your memories.
In sense, it uses the information or memories stored to help you decide or act in future. Example: If you already experienced that keeping your finger on hot stove burns your finger, will you repeat that again?
More importantly, the caudate nucleus is involved in procedural memory — storing information of skills (any skill-writing or playing music) that come by practice or repetition.
There are more to its credits, but I am restricting it to the topic of discussion.
Interesting Scientific Findings
When a writer writes a story, certain regions of brain are activated. The below observations are pertained to creative writing.
During brainstorming task, the visual processing center was more activated in the brains of novice writers, probably because they saw visual scenes like watching a movie in their head. Visual center is in the Occipital lobe (Pink color).
In contrast, in expert writer’s brain, the speech area (Broca’s) was highly activated as though an inner voice was reading him a story. Remember script writer?
When they started to actually write — the caudate nucleus was highly activated in the brain of expert writers but was at rest in novice writer’s brain. Remember, Caudate is involved in skills by practice? Because lots and lots of memories about their past writing (language or style) is already stored, the caudate helps the expert writers by supplying all that information, hence is highly active. But novice writer is just beginning, he need a lot of practice to develop his skills to activate Caudate.
The hippocampus was activated in brains of both experimental groups. Of course, every writer has memories of his own.
# The above findings were exclusive for the scientific study demonstrated by Dr. Lotze and co-researchers with regards to creative writing. But it is to be noted that other regions of brain are also activated during the process of writing (Writing in general).
For any form of writing, general or creative, these regions are activated in brain— Parieto-temporal regions associated with language processing, temporal lobe involved in language and comprehension of sentences, prelexical and auditory processing of any language.
Keep the creative door open,
Let your imagination freely flow,
Your words can mend a broken heart,
Or cure a wounded soul,
Can empower the weak,
Or help someone overcome their grief,
This work was originally published at Age of Awareness publication at Medium.