Neuroscience Sparks Creativity!

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.

A monk once searched for fire with a lighted lantern.

Had he known what fire was,

He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

-Zen Koan

Advertising creatives are expected to go beyond conventional thinking to provide the most impactful creative possible. As a copywriter, my art partner and I regularly go through this exercise using the usual suspects to guide our ideas (strategic documents, traditional market research, branding guidelines, etc.). While we have operated successfully with this approach, cutting-edge neuroscience insights are available that can be leveraged to bring creative work to a whole new level.

Art that commands attention (before you think about it)

According to Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist who is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego, there are “10 Perceptual Principles of Great Art.”1These principles are a set of techniques regularly and intuitively used by artists to optimally excite the visual areas of the brain and are reinforced by direct neural connections to structures related to emotion. This research falls into a category known as neuroaesthetics.

The 10 Perceptual Principles are:

  1. The “peak shift principle” makes exaggerated elements attractive
  2. Perceptual grouping makes objects stand out from background
  3. Balanced use of space*
  4. Contrast is reinforcing
  5. Isolating a single cue helps to focus attention
  6. Perceptual “problem solving” is reinforcing
  7. Symmetry is attractive
  8. Repetition, rhythm, orderliness represent elegance*
  9. Unique vantage points are suspect
  10. Visual “puns” or metaphors enhance art

*These two principles were added to the list after the original article was written.

These Perceptual Principles mean that we have insight into the effectiveness of a design before testing it based on what is known regarding how the brain synthesizes visual information. These insights can help identify what is appealing to the brain, and can guide how the visual elements of a concept are assembled to maximize the desired response.

San Jorge Monet

In San Jorge el Mayor, Monet left small portions of the canvas blank to let the mind engage in “perceptual problem solving”.

Words that can crack the code to memory

In addition to applying neuroaesthetics to creative work during ideation, cognitive neuroscience can be used to better understand how the brain processes language. One insight that can be used when developing copy is the levels of processing effect. The idea behind the levels of processing effect is that the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory is improved by giving meaning to information, or associating it with other previously acquired knowledge.2

This approach can be executed by using data analytics to do natural language searches across the web. The analysis can identify words that are commonly used to relate to a topic in ads, commercials, and social media and applying this language to the development of copy. For example, Low-T might be more effective for certain audiences than low testosterone because consumers are already familiar with this terminology.

When creatives concept applying insights from neuroaesthetics and cognitive neuroscience, we are using techniques that are understood to be naturally engaging to the consumer’s mind. In addition, I see the introduction of these new terms and ideas into the creative discussion offers an opportunity to brainstorm in novel and exciting ways.

What better way to capture and hold attention then to develop creative that is based on neuroscience insights related to how attentional and memory systems operate?

References: 1. Ramachandran VS, Hierstein W. The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience.J Conscious Stud. 1999;6:15-51. 2. Craik FIM, Lockhart RS. Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. J Verbal Learning Verbal Behav. 1972:11(6);671–84.

Neil Adler is a Group Copy Supervisor along with heading up the Brain and Behavior Group at FCB Health. He is a contributing writer to the Institute of Decision Making blog.