Gifted, talented, creative adults are often asked how they solve problems or come up with unique solutions, answers, ideas, and innovations. Most often their reply is, “I don’t know” or “It just came to me” or another variation of these.  Sound familiar?

This San Francisco store window describes the gifted perfectly....Expressive..Perfectionist..Innovative....Humorous...Adventurous...Creative
Photo: Lynne Azpeitia

Robert Lee Hotz has written an interesting article that reports on neuroscience research that sheds some light on how gifted, talented, creative adults come up with these possibilities and answers–what is happening in their brain when that flash of insight occurs.

I found A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward InsightResearchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming, a thought provoking read.  It provides evidence for the value of  what goes on in the minds of  gifted, talented, creative adults.

In my experience as a psychotherapist, coach, and working with gifted people of all ages, the type of wandering brain activity that’s described by Hotz is going on all the time with gifted, talented, creative people–not just when they are solving puzzles or problems.  This is how gifted people think, understand, and put things together.  It’s how they make their finest contributions.

However, this type of brain activity is not usually valued–at all–by gifted adults or those around them.

Gifted, talented, creative people need some stimulation of ideas, people, sounds, or whatever.  Then when they’ve had enough of that, they need time to let it roll around.

Gifted adults are constantly admonished by others not to daydream or let their minds wander.   Very few people understand the value and importance of daydreaming,  mind wandering, or the unfocused mind.

How many people have ever told you that it was productive to do that?

Leta Hollingsworth, knew this was the best way that the gifted mind operates because in 1942 she wrote that children with IQs of 140, waste 50% of their time in the classroom, and those with IQs of 160 and above waste 100% of their classroom time.

This is the way gifted people learn–by thinking about, examining, playing around with, and exploring things–ideas, pictures, concepts, sounds, smells, textures, lines, creatures, etc.

Gifted people’s minds are definitely very active and productive when others think they are doing nothing.  Now we have some neuroscience research that describes the value of this type of mental activity–and its relationship to results!

Some excerpts:

  • …sudden insights… are the culmination of an intense and complex series of brain states that require more neural resources than methodical reasoning.
  • People who solve problems through insight generate different patterns of brain waves than those who solve problems analytically.
  • …our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests.
  • …we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments.
  • …our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.
  • “People assumed that when your mind wandered it was empty,” says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver….As measured by brain activity, however, “mind wandering is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem.”
  • ….Some volunteers found answers by methodically working through the possibilities. Some were stumped. For others, even though the solution seemed to come out of nowhere, they had no doubt it was correct. In those cases, the EEG recordings revealed a distinctive flash of gamma waves emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere, which is involved in handling associations and assembling elements of a problem. The brain broadcast that signal one-third of a second before a volunteer experienced their conscious moment of insight….”It almost certainly reflects the popping into awareness of a solution,”
  • In addition, they found that tell-tale burst of gamma waves was almost always preceded by a change in alpha brain-wave intensity in the visual cortex, which controls what we see.
  • Psychologist Joydeep Bhattacharya also has been probing for insight moments…By monitoring their brain waves, he saw a pattern of high frequency neural activity in the right frontal cortex that identified in advance who would solve a puzzle through insight and who would not. It appeared up to eight seconds before the answer to a problem dawned on the test subject.
  • Insight does favor a prepared mind, researchers determined. Even before we are presented with a problem, our state of mind can affect whether or not we will likely resort to insightful thinking. People in a positive mood were more likely to experience an insight
  • “We often assume that if we don’t notice our thoughts they don’t exist,” says Dr. Christoff in Vancouver, “When we don’t notice them is when we may be thinking most creatively.”

So what does all this have to do with gifted, talented, creative adults?

Well, if gifted adults can understand, value, and appreciate the way their mind, imagination, and resources work then they will have a greater appreciation for who they are, what they do, and how they do it–and they will live better, happier, more fulfilled lives and enjoy themselves more while they are making their contributions in the world. That’s my experience with gifted, talented, and creative adults.