As a creativity keynote speaker I love seeing audience members jump up on stage and get out of their comfort zone with improv. Not that it’s easy to get them to do that. But once they find out how much fun it is, their creativity is unleashed. Because creativity is and should be fun.
Now science is discovering that creativity is also linked to being funny. Researchers at USC wanted to find out what happens in the brain when we try to be funny. They wanted to find out how the brain physiology changes. So they had amateurs and professionals, along with a control group of non comedians come up with two captions for a cartoon – one that was funny, and one that wasn’t.
Then they used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track brain patterns while they were coming up with the captions. What they found was that the medial prefrontal cortex and temporal association regions were both activated, but the temporal region was more active in the brains of people who were professional comedians.
This makes sense because the temporal region is responsible for processing auditory information and helps us interpret speech and recognize the meaning of words. It’s also the place where remote associations occur. Anyone who has done improv knows you have to constantly be on your toes, listening and comprehending everything in a scene, at the same time you make random associations to hopefully come up with a funny line.
Amateurs and non comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for complex problem solving and multi-tasking. It filters our decision making. The prefrontal cortex for most people is probably so busy processing the world around us that it may stifle imaginative thinking. In today’s highly connected world where we’re glued to our cell phones and emails constantly, and are bombarded by messages everywhere we go, our prefrontal cortex usually doesn’t get a day off.
It appears that the professional comedians who use their temporal regions more, have strengthened their ability to shut off their prefrontal cortex and let their imaginations run wild. They’ve developed a trust that their imagination will come up with the right answer. As a creativity keynote speaker I’ve noticed that people who have never done improv will quite often prejudge their answers. They want to try and maintain control so as not to say the wrong thing, especially in front of their boss and co-workers.
In order to be prolifically creative you have to be willing to make an idiot of yourself. Be willing to let yourself go and laugh at it all. And especially laugh at yourself. I guarantee you’ll be more creative.
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