Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Psychology of Creativity

            In the August 2009 issue of Psychology today, Jonah Lehrer reveals some interesting things about the human mind.  At first glance, his revelations seem to apply only to the visual arts but take his suggestions a step further and it’s easy to see the application to the written word.
            Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.”  He didn’t know it at the time but the scientific reality is that the part of the brain involved in facial recognition responds more eagerly to caricatures than to real pictures. The phenomenon is called “Peak Shift”.  In fact, John Lehrer lists 10 perceptual principles of great art.  Here are the other nine.

  1. Grouping – The brain loves a good pattern.
  2. Balance – Good art makes use of the entire canvass.
  3. Contrast –The brain likes thick outlines and sharp contrasts.
  4. Isolation – The brain likes reality reduced to it’s most basic features.
  5. Perceptual Problem Solving –The brain loves to interpret the abstract.
  6. Symmetry –Symmetrical things are more appealing than asymmetrical.
  7. Repetition, Rhythm, Orderliness – Beauty is inseparable from order.
  8. Generic Perspective –The brain prefers things that can be observed from multiple viewpoints.
  9. Metaphor – Encourages the brain to view the world In a new way.

Clearly, these revelations are as important for the written word as for visual art.  Take Stephanie Meyer for example.  The character of Edward in Twilight won over millions of readers.  Her writing isn’t superior for it’s grammar or craft.  It is not overly creative.   But, Meyer’s ability to tap into the instinctual desires of the female brain make it impossible for women to put her book down.  Edward is stronger than strong, the ultimate protector, smart, rich, doesn’t need to sleep, lives forever, always smells great, and his whole world revolves around his woman, Bella.  Whether she knew it or not, Stephanie Meyer was tapping into the instinctual part of the woman’s brain, wired to search for the ultimate provider and protector.
What features does your character or story have that will connect with the human psyche? I believe a book doesn’t necessarily need to be "perfect" to sell.  It just has to push the right mental buttons.


  1. It is interesting. I have discovered in all learning, there is at its very core, a kind of "lie", or "deception". Though, I'm not too keen to call it a lie, exactly. I prefer to call it faith. As Augustine says, "I believe, therefore I understand."

    At the very core, our perception of the world around us is one based on faith. We instinctively have faith that what we experience -- whether sight, sound, or touch -- is a reliable means of understanding the world around us. To cast this faith into doubt would plummet one into a plethora of infinite alternate realities ... like something out of the movie, "The Matix." where the "reality we experience is only an illusion.

    The brain loves to create relationships in this faith. It finds a marriage in math. It takes one object here and another object there, and does something very creative and profound. It brings those objects together and -- though the objects may be completely different -- unites them with the name of the number "two".

    When we watch the television or a movie, the brain wants to tie all of those still images into motion. Even when we are simply outside looking at the sky, all the individual pulses of light waves are tied together into something much more spectacular, such as blue ... orange ... purple ... or black.

    You can take this comment itself strictly scientifically, find that combinations of 26 or so glyphs were used, count the length of it, run statistics on the percentage how many "e"s or "r"s were used. But you won't find the truth behind its author. The truth is in the mind acting in faith that the letters form words ... and that the words make ideas ... and that those ideas came from me.

    And now those ideas are yours.

  2. Holy cow!!! My brain is lacking in so many ways. Bummer!

  3. Wow Paul! Thanks for the insight!

    Bob, follow my blog and I will teach you all you need to know...about dead people. :)


The very important thoughts of very important people -->