Creative thinking is a bit like playing with Legos. Our brain reaches out and pulls in disparate pieces and creates relationships that form something new. These pieces aren’t usually in our conscious mind, but rather are pulled from different parts of our memory, our subconscious mind, and even our intuition. They come together and enter our conscious mind, as an assembled work of art, in a flash of insight.
How do the unrelated pieces come together? The disparate pieces residing in our memory, subconscious, intuition, and consciousness have to be synchronized so they can communicate and connect. Like legos that have a common pattern enabling them to connect, the various areas of the brain must synchronize in order to be connected. Otherwise, the elements of our grand solution will remain separate, languishing individually in the way that Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs can’t be combined with Legos. Our heart plays the pivotal role in harmonizing the pieces.
As the most powerful and consistent generator of rhythmic activity in the body, and possessing an extensive communication system with the brain, the heart is unique in its ability to synchronize the parts of the brain. We have direct evidence that the heart naturally imposes rhythmic patterns onto various areas of the brain, including the tractus solitaries, parabrachial complex, periacqueductal grey, thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, cerebral cortex and prefrontal cortex. When the heart rhythmic patterns are strong enough, the areas of the brain get in sync.
We have plenty of empirical evidence that positive emotions facilitate creative problem solving, but how does positive emotion facilitate brain synchronization? Emotions directly determine our heart rhythmic patterns, or electromagnetic fields. When emotions are positive and aroused, our heart rhythmic pattern becomes coherent and ordered like a sine wave. The heart rhythmic pattern of a person feeling appreciation is shown on the bottom graph. Negative emotions, such as frustration, create an erratic, or incoherent, pattern with little variability between each wave. The heart rhythmic pattern of a person feeling frustration can be seen on the top graph. These rhythmic patterns emitted by the heart are radiated to the brain.
The coherent, or positive emotional, pattern is a much more effective synchronizing signal for the brain. The coherent pattern has significant variability between each wave, with distinctive highs and lows. Just like big waves in the ocean have a bigger influence in moving more water into a swelling pattern, as compared to a small wave, the deeper wave pattern of coherence has a more profound influence on the brain and is more effective in getting the parts in sync. Conversely, when the heart’s rhythmic pattern has little variability because of negative emotions, it’s not a very effective signal and there is less potential for getting the areas of the brain in sync. Thus, the electromagnetic field generated by the heart in the coherence mode is much more effective at re-patterning the areas of the brain so ideas originating from different areas can connect, like pieces of lego.
I’ve been on a quest to find out why positive emotion facilitates creative problem solving, but could only find pieces. Each of the pieces is from credible sources, including a BBC documentary, HearthMath research, and an article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, but my brain (in a state of coherence, of course!) had to assemble them together. It’s a working hypothesis, open to be shaped by new research.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of emotions in teams, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.Share