Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Project title: Bridging the gap between learning and creativity using electroencephalography and brain stimulation
Summary: The main research question of this project is how the way we learn from our environment can be translated into creativity. It is well known that our prefrontal cortex helps up to solve problems by applying rules learned from experience with similar problems. This process has a specific degree of automaticity, allowing us to perform actions quickly and efficiently, constraining the problem and inhibiting information deemed as irrelevant. Often, even if we are required to deviate from the learned rules to achieve an optimal solution, we behave according to our past experience (mental set effect). In this case, learned rules constitute constraints, which need to be removed to solve certain problems. Therefore, we want to understand whether the way people learn and the respective neural signatures can predict how creative they can be. To bridge the gap between the cognitive processes that comprise learning and creativity, we want to investigate what aspects of learning could predict the ability of people to override what they have learned, and thus behave in a creative, optimal way.
For this purpose, we will conduct a series of experiments using behavioural measures, as well as electroencephalography (EEG) and non-invasive transcranial brain stimulation (tCS). More specifically, in the first stage, we will attempt to obtain a clear neural signature of learning, by monitoring the EEG during exposure to novel event sequences (e.g., unusual musical scales or modified artificial grammars). At this stage, we will pilot new experimental paradigms, in order to create tasks appropriate for our purposes. Subsequently, we will investigate how these neural signatures relate to creativity, which will allow us to predict creativity from neural indices observed during or after the learning phase. Finally, we will investigate whether we can affect (i.e. boost or deteriorate) creative performance, by administering tCS during learning on the regions that were found to be crucial for learning and creativity in the first stage of our research. This would possibly allow to infer causal relationships between specific brain states and behavioural performance on learning and creative tasks.