Alpha Waves Help Us Weed Out Obvious Ideas


A new study out of Queen Mary University of London suggests that our brain’s “alpha waves” play an important role in creativity. Specifically, they help us get beyond obvious connections so that we can make more creative, less obvious, connections.

This concept supports my theory that our creativity increases to the same degree we can detach from our reality. So many scientific studies we’ve reviewed in this blog help us do that—walking, having a coffee nap, wearing a power suit, creating psychological distance, even experiencing a placebo of some kind. And the fact there are so many ways to increase our creativity tells us how malleable it is. Further, all of these studies tell us that the less we focus on reality, or on what’s right in front of us, the more creative we can be.

I believe that’s because reality is the enemy of creativity. Reality, by definition, already exists. Creativity, by definition, is something new. So anything we can do to avoid the “obvious,” which is another word for “reality,” the more creative we will be.

As Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, from Queen Mary University of London, said:

If we need to generate alternative uses of a glass, first we must inhibit our past experience which leads us to think of a glass as a container. Our study’s novelty is to demonstrate that right temporal alpha oscillations is a key neural mechanism for overriding these obvious associations.

Okay, so let’s look at what the researchers found regarding alpha waves and creativity.


The researchers used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to pick up electrical brain-signals through small sensors placed on the subject’s head. They monitored the brain’s electrical activity in order to see the role alpha waves may play in creative exercises.

The study showed that stimulating the right temporal area of the brain in the alpha frequency increases the capability of inhibiting obvious links during creative thinking (you may want to read that sentence again, it’s a mind-twister). The more alpha waves present, the less obvious the subjects’ connections became.

As co-author of the study, Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya, put it:

Taking a less traveled route is needed for thinking creatively, and our findings provide some evidence on how this is done in our brain.

So all we need are alpha wave stimulating devices, right?


I seriously doubt any alpha-wave stimulation devices will be out anytime soon, but perhaps they aren’t needed. Could it be that walking, wearing a power suit and creating psychological distance, among many other proven methods covered within this blog, are ways for us to trick our brains into creating alpha waves, which in turn frees us from creativity’s kryptonite, aka reality?

My suggestion for the researchers is to find out. Hook up subjects to the EEG machines while they are walking, wearing a power suit or creating psychological distance and measure the alpha waves. If I’m right and there’s a correlation with some or all of these methods and alpha wave levels, then we can start to compare various methods against each other with more scientific and less subjective measures.

And I volunteer to be your first subject.

This article first appeared in

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Will Burns

Will Burns is an advertising veteran and current CEO of

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