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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Reawakening the creative mind
Robert Green, Professor of Psychology, with a model of the human brain in a pilot programme for the Open University: The Nature of Human Nature.
The human mind has long fascinated psychologists
test hello test
Helen Briggs
BBC News Online
Australian scientists say they have created a "thinking cap" that will stimulate creative powers.

The invention raises the possibility of being able to unlock one's inner genius by reawakening dormant parts of the brain.

This shock finding will challenge many of our conventional views regarding creativity

Steve Williams, Institute of Psychiatry
It is based on the idea that we all have the sorts of extraordinary abilities usually associated with savants.

According to scientists at the Centre for the Mind in Sydney, these hidden talents can be stimulated using magnetism.

Professor Allan Snyder and colleague Elaine Mulcahy say tests on 17 volunteers show their device can improve drawing skills within 15 minutes.

They intend to submit their work for publication in a scientific journal.

The news, reported in Chemistry and Industry magazine, has been given a cautious welcome by experts in the UK.

'Unconscious skills'

Professor Steve Williams, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said Professor Snyder was a highly respected international scientist and he was looking forward to reading the scientific paper.

Stephen Wiltshire, who is autistic, draws astonishing cityscapes (BBC)
Many autistics are accomplished artists
He told BBC News Online: "This shock finding that everyone might possess unconscious skills that can be 'switched on' with magnetic stimulation will challenge many of our conventional views regarding creativity."

The inspiration for the device comes from savant syndrome, a condition portrayed in the Hollywood film Rain Man.

Savants are extraordinarily gifted. They may have amazing memories or excel at maths, music or art. But they also have developmental disorders such as autism.

Mind state

One theory behind savant syndrome is that the right side of the brain overcompensates for damage to the left hemisphere.

The skills most often seen in savants are those associated with the right side.

Savant syndrome
Rare condition in which persons with various developmental disorders have astonishing abilities or talents
Savants also have a prodigious memory
Typical savant skills include music, art, and mathematical skills
About 10% of persons with autistic disorder have some savant skills
According to Professor Snyder, it might be possible to train someone to access this state by controlling their brain waves.

David Potter of the National Autistic Society, a UK charity, said the research was fascinating.

"Some scientists believe that the essence of creativity is not a state of mind but an activity," he told BBC News Online.

"Whether Snyder and Mulcahy's research will enable the expression of savant skills without accompanying impairments remains to be seen."

See also:

07 Oct 99 | Health
Tuning in to genius
10 Mar 01 | Health
Unlocking the brain's potential
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