Campus News

‘Eureka!’: Neuroscientist to discuss creative insight at this year’s Torrance Lecture

One of the nation’s top researchers in cognitive neuroscience, Mark Beeman, will discuss the spark that results in sudden human insight in the 2011 E. Paul Torrance Lecture on March 24.

Beeman, an associate professor of psychology and head of the cognitive neuroscience program at Northwestern University, will speak on “Insight in the Brain-The Cognitive and Neural Bases of ‘Eureka!’ Moments,” at 6 p.m. in Room S151 of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Open free to the public, the lecture will be preceded by a reception at 5:30 p.m. in the first floor lobby of the new building on East Campus.

For the past several years, Beeman has been studying how the brain produces those sudden moments of creative insight.

“Most creativity occurs over extended periods of time, making it difficult to elucidate the critical cognitive and neural processes,” Beeman said. “But sometimes, while at an impasse about how to solve a problem-Eureka!-a sudden insight emerges. Such moments of sudden insight can signal and isolate some of the critical components of creative cognition.”

Although insight seems to occur suddenly, the Eureka! moment is the culmination of cognitive processes and internal states that facilitate the insight-from rapidly changing preparatory states to relatively stable individual differences in brain states that influence problem-solving style, said Beeman. “Furthermore, the processes and neural activity that lead to insight solutions are modulated by mood and attention,” he said. “Based on these results, I present a framework of cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting insight and at least some aspects of creative cognition.”

In a recently completed study, ­Beeman found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.

“What we think is happening,” Beeman said in recent New York Times article, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections to solve puzzles.”

The E. Paul Torrance Lecture annually brings scholars to UGA to discuss research and issues concerned with creativity. It was established in 1985 in honor of Torrance, a native Georgian and pioneer in research on the identification and development of creative potential. He is most noted for the development of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which is still used worldwide. The lecture is sponsored by the College of Education’s Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development, established in 1984 by the late UGA educational psychology professor Mary Frasier, to continue the tradition of scholarship and excellence exemplified in Torrance’s work.