What is creativity?
Creativity takes many different forms. Obvious ones include things like visual arts, music, and poetry. Less obvious applications are in fields like economics, STEM, and education. Where do bright ideas come from? The short answer is that researchers are still figuring it out, but the evidence below reflects our current understanding.
In research, creativity is often defined as something unique and positive for society that stretches beyond what is considered familiar. There is no consensus about what factors play into creativity, but some commonly accepted ones include thinking style, personality, knowledge, motivation, and environment. Creativity theories note that these factors need to be balanced for creativity to happen. For example, you can have a flexible thinking style, but without motivation to act on the ideas, there is no creative outcome.
Creativity and Brain Function
When you think of creativity and brain function, you might picture a very orderly and technical left hemisphere contrasted with a colorful, creative right hemisphere (see stories). Is there any truth to hemisphere dominance in creativity?
Evidence suggests that actually, yes! The findings do not mean that every person only shows right hemisphere activity during creative thought. Instead, when we look at brain activity averaged across people, there tends to be more right than left hemisphere activity during creative thinking. A systematic meta-analysis showed that this finding is pretty consistent across studies.
Brain regions commonly activated during creative thought are the temporoparietal junction (where your parietal and temporal lobes meet), medial temporal lobe, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and inferior frontal gyrus. But, not all creative thought shows the same pattern of brain activity. For example, one meta-analysis comparing studies of musical vs. verbal vs. visual creativity concluded that the dlPFC is consistently reported in creativity studies, but other regions depend more on domain.
For more information, see this talk by Robert Builder, PhD on the neuroscience of creativity.
 Zaidel, D. W. (2014). Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 389.
 Batey, M. (2012). The measurement of creativity: From definitional consensus to the introduction of a new heuristic framework. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), 55-65.
 Sternberg, R. J. (2006). The nature of creativity. Creativity research journal, 18(1), 87-98.
 Mihov, K. M., Denzler, M., & Förster, J. (2010). Hemispheric specialization and creative thinking: A meta-analytic review of lateralization of creativity. Brain and Cognition, 72(3), 442-448.
 Fink, A., Koschutnig, K., Benedek, M., Reishofer, G., Ischebeck, A., Weiss, E. M., & Ebner, F. (2012). Stimulating creativity via the exposure to other people's ideas. Human brain mapping, 33(11), 2603-2610.
 Benedek, M., Jauk, E., Fink, A., Koschutnig, K., Reishofer, G., Ebner, F., & Neubauer, A. C. (2014). To create or to recall? Neural mechanisms underlying the generation of creative new ideas. NeuroImage, 88, 125-133.
 Boccia, M., Piccardi, L., Palermo, L., Nori, R., & Palmiero, M. (2015). Where do bright ideas occur in our brain? Meta-analytic evidence from neuroimaging studies of domain-specific creativity. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1195.