Intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity

A recent study shows that An insight-related neural reward signal exists and is more active in some people than in others.

This study also confirms the idea that “intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity.”

Some other findings that may be of interest:

…our findings suggest that individuals who are high in reward sensitivity experience the sudden emergence of a solution into awareness as strongly rewarding whereas individuals who are low in reward sensitivity may still experience insight as sudden and attentionally salient but lacking in hedonic content.

As lifelong autodidact, I wonder if others with this marvelous “addiction” can relate to feeling almost not alive unless there is something to wonder about or figure out. I recently read a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One standout was his strong tendency to seek out simple or humble environments that stimulated his mind.

…Individuals high in reward sensitivity are more likely to take drugs, develop substance-abuse disorders or eating disorders, and engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love.

Getting lost in the woods or on a motorcycle ride, for me, is a highly enjoyable feeling. There have to be slight tremors of fear and agitation followed by finding my way again. I suppose others may experience similar feelings in social settings or as live performers.

…These findings shed light on people’s motivations for engaging in challenging, often time-consuming, activities that potentially yield insights, such as solving puzzles or mysteries, creating inventions, or doing research. It also reinforces the notion that intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity. The expectation of intrinsic rewards from comprehending and creating, rather than from an extrinsic source such as payment, is thought to be the most effective type of workplace motivation…

A society with universal basic income in which no one has to work unless they want to might bring about the greatest flourishing of human talent ever. Then again, maybe not. Inspiration does need a stick on the back sometimes and “joy has no children,” meaning happiness produces few inventions.

Here’s an article about the study: Aha! + Aaaah: Creative Insight Triggers a Neural Reward Signal.

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