Episode 103: The Science Of Creativity & How To Enhance Creative Innovation| Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • Creativity stems from neural structures in the brain that can be accessed in a certain sequence to spark creativity in different domains of life
  • Truly creative acts are novel combinations of some things that reveal a fundamental feature about how our brain or the real world work
  • Creativity captivates us because it’s useful in some way – just coming up with a novel combination of things (like wings on a fish tank) is not inherently creative
  • If you want to be creative, you need to seek out and forage for information about existing rules – you can’t break rules unless you know them
  • Key elements of creativity: (1) divergent thinking – brainstorming, exploring ideas – taking one stimulus and radiating out thoughts, events, and concepts from that thing; (2) convergent thinking – taking loose ideas and synthesizing them into a specific framework or coherent idea(s)
    • To enhance divergent thinking try 5 minutes of open monitoring meditation: sit with eyes closed and just let thoughts flow in and out
    • To enhance convergent thinking try 5 minutes of focused attention monitoring: sit with eyes closed or open and focus on a specific object, sound, point
    • Skip the caffeine to enhance divergent thinking, consume caffeine to enhance convergent thinking


Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, Andrew Huberman explains how the brain engages in creative thinking. He provides the types of thinking essential for creative ideas, reviews meditation tools, how dopamine and mood contribute to the creative process, tools to leverage creativity, and more!  

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Understanding Creativity

  • For something to be creative, it has to reveal something about the world or how we work – the most creative things surprise or delight us
  • Creativity: a way of interacting with the world or combining or recombining information in a way that appears novel to us and other people
  • Creativity tells us something in a way that is new or different – but sensical; for example, a fish tank with wings is not creative but an abstract pattern in a painting or familiar song remade in a new way is creative
    • Consider Banksy, he combines 2D art with 3D landscapes in a way that the concept pops out
  • When we hear, see, feel, or experience known elements in a new way that are creative, neural circuits change the way they function
    • Neurochemicals like dopamine are released making us excited about what we’re seeing and in anticipation of seeing it again

Cognitive Elements Of Creativity

  • Elements of coming up with the creative idea and implementing it: (1) divergent thinking; (2) convergent thinking
  • Divergent thinking: brainstorming, exploring ideas – taking one stimulus and radiating out thoughts, events, and concepts from that thing
    • Underlies idea generation, any answer goes
    • Selection criteria are vague and vast
    • Any answer is valid but not all answers are creative or useful
    • Key rule: you want enough focus to remember what that initial thing was so answers aren’t completely random but you want to explore the range of ideas
    • You don’t actually want to be overly focused – skip the caffeine or stimulants
  • Convergent thinking: taking loose ideas and synthesizing them into a specific framework or coherent idea(s)
    • Making sense of topics or concepts in the real world
    • Convergent thinking is guided by persistence and thinking
  • We are naturally better at divergent or convergent thinking based on activities from ages 5-25 years old
  • People with ADHD are often very effective at divergent thinking but less focused on convergent thinking
  • To enhance divergent thinking: need unbiased access to memory banks – suppress previous notions about combinations of things we’ve seen in the past to create new ones
    • Try open monitoring meditation take 5 minutes to close your eyes and dedicate time to taking inventory of thoughts – a perceptual exercise
  • To enhance convergent thinking try focused attention meditation: take 5 minutes and sit with eyes open or closed and focus on a specific location, idea, or sound which will enhance the ability to direct attention

The Role Of Dopamine In Creativity

  • Dopamine is closely related to both convergent and divergent thinking and creativity through different pathways
  • Dopamine is about motivation, desire, and movement
  • Mood also plays a critical role in dopamine and creativity – a good mood enhances divergent thinking; pay attention to natural highs and lows
  • In professions where there’s a lot of creativity required (such as artist, musician) there tends to be a lot of manic depression
  • When dopamine is high, divergent thinking is more frequent, and convergent thinking is low – until a threshold is passed and divergent thinking sinks
  • Four major circuits in the brain release dopamine: (1) nigrostriatal pathway – associated with divergent thinking, involved in generating eye movement, bodily movement, and thinking about movement; (2) meso-cortical pathway responsible for convergent thinking, a more emotional pathway responsible; (3) mesolimbic area involved in desire and reward, associated with addictive behavior; (4) tuberoinfundibular pathway regulates prolactin secretion by the pituitary gland
    • You cannot selectively amplify dopamine in just one pathway with drugs or stimulants – dopamine transmission will enhance across all 4 pathways
      • L tyrosine and phenylethylamine can increase dopamine
  • Behavioral tool to enhance dopamine release in the nigrostriatal pathway specifically: non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) lying perfectly motionless with eyes closed – try 10-minute NSDR daily
    • The motionlessness increases mental imagery, and dopamine in a nigrostriatal pathway – but don’t expect divergent thinking to occur during the bout; divergent thinking will occur in 5-15 minutes following

Other Neural Circuitry Involved In Creativity

  • Three major networks in the brain are responsible for each of the three steps in creativity
  • Executive function: area of the prefrontal cortex that gives us the ability to govern thinking in deliberate ways
  • Default mode network: comes online when you close your eyes and start thinking inwardly instead of thinking about the external environment –important for “spontaneous imagination” paying attention to internal thoughts
    • The network associated with imagination in your head, relying on memory of previous experiences
  • Salience network: a network of brain regions (insula, anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala) directs focus to what’s most interesting to pay attention to in the world or inside of us

Additional Tools To Enhance Creativity

  • Microdosing psilocybin with levels that do not induce a mood or alter state does increase divergent thinking ability
    • But serotonin receptor enhancement is not selective – you will hit them all which makes it more difficult to titrate
  • Alcohol can encourage divergent thinking in very low doses (less than 2 drinks) because it reduces inhibition and sense of self
  • Cannabis enhances divergent thinking but often in ways that can’t be useful because you either forget, or thoughts are so abstract they can’t be implemented
  • There’s a strong relationship between physical movement and divergent thinking when you’re not directing attention to one specific thing
    • Tip: if you’re stuck sitting at your desk, try taking a walk and keep a recorder handy in case you come up with thoughts
  • Narrative training: build a world for context outside of your usual framework; think from the perspective of someone else’s motivational state (perspective shifting technique); force collaboration with others


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Notes By Maryann

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