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Runco explains why electric brain stimulation is "complicated"

  |   Kathryn Kao   |   Permalink   |   Media Mention,   Research,   Students and Faculty

Can zapping your brain with electricity boost creativity? Professor Mark Runco, who teaches gifted and creative education in the Department of Educational Psychology, recently weighed in on a growing movement that has taken the Internet by storm.

According to a podcast aired on KCUR radio, more and more do-it-yourselfers are trying to demonstrate transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in videos uploaded to YouTube. These videos—which feature at-home tinkerers with electrodes strapped to their heads—are inspired by a few early studies that show tDCS "can temporarily improve learning, concentration and mood."

But before you wire your head to a battery, there are several factors to consider. Runco says the phenomenon is "complicated" and that the "so-called standard deviation of creativity is that creative things are both original, but also in some way effective."

According to him, creativity isn't just about coming up with original ideas, but rather coming up with "one idea that will solve a complicated real-life problem." And since creativity occurs in so many different ways, it's hard to measure it in a controlled laboratory experiment.

"Creativity really relies on intrinsic motivation and spontaneity and a kind of a freedom of thought, and it is very sensitive," said Runco. "It may be one of the most sensitive of human behaviors and capacities."

Despite these factors, he believes that individual tests conducted in labs, like the one featured on the podcast, can be valuable for evaluating aspects of creativity on a larger level. Lila Chrysikou, an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Kansas, is leading a $175,000 study to look at how tDCS can be used to the greatest effect and whether it creates long-term benefits.

She acknowledges her tests can only tell so much, but is adamant that the study is "required if the field is going to move beyond the marketing hype of brain-boosting gizmos."

Runco has studied creativity for nearly 30 years and has published approximately 200 articles, chapters and books on its measurement and enhancement, including the primary textbook used in the field. He co-edited the Encyclopedia of Creativity and is the founder of the "Creativity Research Journal" and "Business Creativity and the Creative Economy."

Recently, he helped develop a series of tasks to measure creative potential for a collaborative study with two doctoral students at Plymouth University, United Kingdom.

Read the full story on KCUR's website.

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