The Most Creative Brains are Slow

"...One study of 65 subjects suggests that creativity prefers to take a slower, more meandering path than intelligence. 'The brain appears to be an efficient superhighway that gets you from Point A to Point B” when it comes to intelligence, Dr. (Rex) Jung explained. “But in the regions of the brain related to creativity, there appears to be lots of little side roads with interesting detours, and meandering little byways.'"

On studies of white matter integrity, the most creative subjects using tests of divergent thinking were the ones with the ones with the lowest white matter integrity (as assessed by fractional anisotropy) in the frontostriatal circuits.

For those of us who see highly creative children with school problems, this research comes as no great surprise. The classic picture is on the WISC-IV is very high verbal and perceptual reasoning and slow processing times (Coding and Symbol Search). These children often have passionate hobbies, rich fantasy lives and imagination, and poor classroom output compared to their intellectual potential.

If you're thinking, hey this seems familiar, you're right. This thinner prefrontal cortex pattern has also been seen in gifted kids (see The Blessings and Burdens of High IQ), ADHD, and Dyslexia.

The data are beginning to converge - is it possible that the emphasis on speed and work production in K-12 schooling runs completely counter to creativity development?

NYT: Charting Creativity
Creativity / Divergent Thinking and White Matter pdf


  1. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Hi Fernette and Brock - you've managed to almost completely accurately describe our Davidson Young Scholar son (now 14; his symbol search was still >90%tile, but coding was the only low number and it was quite low). The insane (imo) amounts of homework they give (starting in about 4th grade) are an anathema to him and the creative pursuits on which he spends the little free time they allow him.

    Thanks for all the interesting posts!

  2. Anonymous4:06 AM

    Nicely said. My younger son (like his brother) is also a DYS, and his most recent WISC scores were as expected. Very superior in most categories with a perfect 50 for processing speed. He also scores average in block design and picture concepts.

    Our older son excels in these areas, but the younger one would be busy imagining all the possibilities. Speed would not concern him. How could he possible choose the "right" combination for the tester when he can see so many good choices that make perfect sense to him!

  3. Anonymous5:55 AM

    This describes my daughter's profile exactly. On the WISC IV she scored 136 VI & 96 PSI, overall FSIQ 126. She is wildly creative and clearly gifted, but freezes up when asked to compute under time pressure. The "mad minute" is extremely frustrating to her as she understands much more complicated problems, but can never complete even the easiest mad minute page in less than a minute! Why the huge emphasis on speed?

  4. I agree that creativity does take a more meandering path - but using the term slow certainly does no favors for those who are creative. I think a better term would be "thorough" since a creative mind thinks of a mass of possibilities instead of the direct shorter and possibly easiest route - slower yes, but more intense and thorough. What about those who show a penchant for both? i.e. a programmer/designer? Or an artist who also does analytical thinking. Saying that artists have less frontal lobe matter will not win favors in the artistic world for sure.

  5. Anonymous3:45 PM

    This is fascinating! I'm a very balanced brained person (left/right), and some have called me a creative genius, but I can also talk and understand engineers who code complex applications. I find when I am in the engineering mode, my brain works quickly, taking in information and coming back with answers. But when I am creating, it works in a non-linear fashion, and it's done when it's done. There is no defined process, and it sort of meanders around. In my 20's I took an IQ test to get into Mensa, and I got a perfect score on the perceptual reasoning, and average or slightly above average everywhere else.