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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Suffering from a loose wig?

No problem, you’re just a creative.
Creation, by Carol L. Douglas
Intelligence is a complex subject. I doubt we’re measuring it correctly, let alone that we understand how it forms. Still, I love reading studies on the subject. For example, this one said that people in cold states have higher IQs. It may not be true, but it seems like a good justification for freezing so much of the year.

Researchers recently went looking for a correlation between cortical thickness and intelligence. That makes sense, right? A V-8 engine is more powerful than my four-cylinder Prius, after all. Therefore, the more grey matter we have, the smarter we ought to be. Except that brain mass doesn’t really correlate very well with intelligence, something scientists have known for a long time.

This is your brain in the cold.
In a recent neuroimaging study by US and Canadian scientists, participants were given questionnaires that assessed their intellect and openness. ‘Openness’ is an even more amorphous quality than intelligence, defined by researchers as “engagement with fantasy, perception, and aesthetics.”

Researchers then correlated the results of those tests with MRI images measuring the thickness of the cerebral cortex. This part of your brain is responsible for memory and cognitive control.

But the bigger-is-better model failed once again to deliver. There was no relationship at all between cortical thickness and intelligence. There was a negative relationship between cortical thickness and ‘openness’. In other words, the less cortical thickness, the more likely you are to make creative associations.

Untitled, by Carol L. Douglas. There might be a face in there. I might have a loose wig.
Since the cortex plays a role in memory and structuring thought, the researchers thought it made sense that reduced thickness would be associated with openness. “It’s almost like a reduced filter mechanism that, in some cases, can be beneficial,” said researcher Oshin Vartanian.

This all just supports the old canard that creatives are eccentric. The fancy name for that is cognitive disinhibition, and it means that we artists have less control over our thoughts than ‘normal’ people, whatever they are.

Scientists—those poor unfortunate linear thinkers—posit that creatives suffer from schizotypal personality, a mild form of being nuts.

You are more than the contents of your brain case, kiddo, by Carol L. Douglas.
“In my research at Harvard, done in part with my colleague Cynthia A. Meyersburg, I have found that study participants who score high in a measure of creative achievement in the arts are more likely to endorse magical thinking — such as belief in telepathic communication, dreams that portend the future, and memories of past lives. These participants are also more likely to attest to unusual perceptual experiences, such as having frequent déjà vu and hearing voices whispering in the wind,” wrote Shelley Carson.

Sound like any successful artist you know? Me neither, and I know a lot of successful artists. This kind of ‘analysis’ is in itself the worst kind of magical thinking. Since science’s chief claim is rationality, that's kind of funny.

The human animal is more than the sum of his or her parts. That's worth remembering.

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