The brain loves to imagine. Thanks to this passion, we visualize ideas, find solutions to problems, and clarify dreams. Now, the creative and imaginative process responds to a series of fascinating neural mechanisms that are worth knowing.
Human existence perennially oscillates on two different planes, that of reality (which manifests itself through its direct participation in physically tangible events) and that of subjectivity (which results from the way in which each individual lives their internal world). That is, between perception and imagination.
Although there is a clear border between the two, we cannot deny that there are certain points of contact: what we imagine tends to come from events experienced in the past, while endless realities were first conceived in a restless mind.
The ability to create mental scenarios is a characteristic of our species, and it allows it to transcend the limitations imposed by nature to discover strategies from which to benefit, despite the fact that at times this has been harmful to the planet.
In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’What part of the brain controls imagination?’’ we will delve into the detail of what the phenomenon of imagination is and its functions. Likewise, we will delve into those daily areas in which it plays a key role, with the aim of exemplifying its scope in our lives.
What part of the brain controls imagination?
The parts of the brain that control imagination are the occipital cortex (at the back of the brain), involved in vision and also important for recreating visual experiences, and the posterior precuneus (located internally between the two cerebral hemispheres).
Imagination is the ability to create, at a cognitive level, images (or scenes) that are not present in the perceptual field of the person who articulates them, and can be spiced by the inclusion of elements evoked in any sensory modality.
In such a way, it is possible to reproduce situations from the past that not only involve visual content, but also the sensations that accompanied them (positive and negative). It also allows you to explore intangible ideas or concepts, and even combine them to generate innovative products that never existed or were not directly experienced.
In this sense, two subtypes of imagination are distinguished, the reproductive (simple evocation of the past, distorted by the passage of time and by the limitations of storage in memory) and the productive (mental construction of new content from the amalgam of life experiences).
This phenomenon also includes the well-known counterfactual thoughts, that is, the formulation at a hypothetical level of alternative scenarios through which to illustrate how life could have been if a certain peak of life had been different (a different decision, eg.).
And it is that imagining is a habitual activity in the human being. Thanks to it, we consider possibilities and conditions (which often begin with a “what if”) that are the essence of creative or divergent thinking; from which the advancement of technology, science and art is possible.
From the very writing of a research hypothesis to the creation of plastic or literary work, all of them have an imaginative element of enormous magnitude that shapes the artistic and scientific legacy of humanity.
Even the stories, tales and mythologies of each culture, which have a moralizing objective and serve to endow the community with a substratum of identity, were born and nurtured by this symbolic capacity.
The neuroscience of imagination: how is it produced?
The neuroscience of imagination is part of our everyday life. It is often said that it is in childhood when we use it the most.
The world in those early years seems unlimited and our mind is incredibly creative. Somehow, and as we grow up and get caught up in routines and obligations, the imagination rusts, thus cutting off part of that untamed potential that we all have.
For this reason, it is often said that the imagination must be accompanied in turn by a challenging personality type with which to materialize many of those ideas. Either way, this is something we can train and learn. Let us now understand how the neurological bases of the creative process are organized.
When you imagine you also perceive and feel
The neuroscience of imagination has countless works that reveal fascinating data. Thus, studies such as the one carried out by Dr. Luigi Afganti, from the University of Padua, show us that perception and imagination share the same neural mechanisms. What does this mean? To understand it better we will give an example.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we are sitting by the sea at sunset. When we start this imaginative process, our brain achieves several things. It makes us see in our mind that sea, that sky and that sun sinking into the horizon. In addition, we will hear the sound of the waves, the evening wind and even the smell of the salty breeze.
People are capable of experiencing sensations through imagination without certain stimuli being present. And we do it because we use the same neural circuits. But there’s people who cannot do that.
Imagination and creativity occur throughout the brain, not in just one hemisphere
There is a very widespread neuromyth and it is the following: the right hemisphere is the one that orchestrates the creative processes, while the left is the logical one. In this sense, cognitive psychologists, such as Dr. Scott Barry Kauffman, point out: the creative and imaginative process occurs in many regions of the brain and not in a specific area.
Identified the brain network that makes imagination and creativity possible
If it can be imagined, it can be done, argued the writer Jules Verne, who was able to anticipate the invention of the submarine by several decades, with his work “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, or in a century the arrival of man on the Moon.
What differentiated Verne from his colleague George Wells, author of “War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine,” whose fictions have not made it out of the pages of his books? Or why was Estein able to imagine with such precision the elusive concepts that he embodied in the theory of Relativity, and that have taken a century to be scientifically confirmed?
Researchers at the University of Darmouth believe they have gone one step further to discover what brain structures make us humans capable of creating works of art, inventing tools or thinking scientifically.
To find out, Peter Ulric Tse’s team wondered how the brain allows us to manipulate mental images. The results, which appear in the latest issue of “Proceedings,” involve areas that, according to a study last year in the journal “Brain”, were more developed in Einstein’s brain, like the prefrontal cortex or the parietal lobes.
To find out, they asked fifteen participants to mentally reconstruct or decompose a series of figures to form entirely new ones.
With this they tried to put into play one of our most peculiar capacities, the flexibility with which our mind can manipulate mental images and modify them. Something that happens, for example when we try to imagine, for example, a bull-headed bumblebee.
While they were carrying out tasks like these, they observed their brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging and found the activity spread throughout the cerebral cortex (the surface of the brain) and also other subcortical areas.
These active zones while mental images were manipulated coincide with a wide neural network that experts call the “working area” of the brain, of which there was no evidence until now, and which theoretically would be responsible for our conscious experiences and our own cognitive abilities of our species.
Specifically, this “working area” of the brain allows us to consciously manipulate images, symbols, ideas and theories with the concentration necessary to solve complex problems and generate new ideas.
This extensive network encompasses four main areas: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – where short-term memory resides – and the posterior parietal cortex – essential for executing planned movements. Together these two structures would act as an executive system that recruits other brain regions and guides behavior.
The “working area” is completed by the occipital cortex (at the back of the brain), involved in vision and also important for recreating visual experiences, and the posterior precuneus (located internally between the two cerebral hemispheres), one of the regions with greater number of connections of the cerebral cortex, which connects the three previous areas and would act as a logistic node that allows the processing of information in a conscious way.
Activity was also found in other regions, such as the cerebellum -which in addition to controlling movements, as was traditionally thought, also intervenes in attention- or the thalamus -which could play an important role in consciousness.
According to the study, to keep an image in mind, the activation of all this wide network in both cerebral hemispheres is required, while the manipulation of these representations (constructing or decomposing the images) activates parts of the network in a more dispersed way, slightly concentrated in the left hemisphere and with the greatest activity located in the posterior precuneus (between the two cerebral hemispheres).
This fundamental structure for manipulating mental images, the precuneus, is more evolved in humans than in the rest of primates and other animals and is one of those that takes the longest to mature (myelinate) in the developing brain.
“Our findings help us better understand how the organization of the brain makes us different from other species and allows us to be so creative. If we understand these differences we will be able to know where human creativity comes from and possibly we can recreate these creative processes in machines ”, says the study’s lead author, Alex Schlegel.
FAQS: What part of the brain controls imagination?
What part of the brain is responsible for creativity and imagination?
The “working area” is completed by the occipital cortex (at the back of the brain), involved in vision and also important for recreating visual experiences, and the posterior precuneus (located internally between the two cerebral hemispheres).
How does imagination work in the brain?
Neuroscience has shown that imagining activates the same brain circuits as when we do or experience it; In other words, if we imagine that we are doing a sport, the body responds as if it were true, that is, it accelerates our heart rate, our breathing, our tension.
Where does imagination happen?
Most ideas, however abstract they may seem, are born as images. In fact, etymologically, the Greek word idea means “vision.” … But the imagination does not only arise from the images. It can also be triggered by a verbal description, when reading a novel or a poem, for example.
How are imaginations formed?
Imagination is the ability to form a mental image of something that is not perceived by the senses. It is the ability of the mind to construct mental scenes, objects or events that do not exist that are not present or that have happened in the past.
Is creativity good for the brain?
According to Roger Beaty, an expert in cognitive neuroscience at Harvard University, people with greater creative abilities have stronger connections in their neural networks.
In this article we answered the question ‘’What part of the brain controls imagination?’’ we delved into the detail of what the phenomenon of imagination is and its functions. Likewise, we delved into those daily areas in which it plays a key role, with the aim of exemplifying its scope in our lives.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know!
Agnati, L. F., Guidolin, D., Battistin, L., Pagnoni, G., & Fuxe, K. (2013). The Neurobiology of Imagination: Possible Role of Interaction-Dominant Dynamics and Default Mode Network. Frontiers in Psychology, 4. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00296
Beisteiner, R., Höllinger, P., Lindinger, G., Lang, W., & Berthoz, A. (1995). Mental representations of movements. Brain potentials associated with imagination of hand movements. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology/Evoked Potentials Section, 96(2), 183-193.