Campus & Community

The brains behind writer’s block

1 min read

Professor offers new views of the muse

“It’s likely that writing and other creative work involve a push-pull interaction between the frontal and temporal lobes,” Harvard Medical School neurology instructor Alice Flaherty speculates. If the temporal lobe activity holds sway, an aspiring scribe may turn out 600 logorrheic pages. If the temporal lobes are restrained by frontal lobe changes, the result might be pinched and timid. Most academics regard the study of creativity as what Flaherty calls “intellectually unhygienic.” So Flaherty, who has herself experienced a compulsion to write, is doing it herself. She and Shelley Carson, a psychologist at Harvard, have tried using light to break writing blocks and prod creativity. As autumn wears on, many people experience a dip in productivity and originality, not dissimilar to the gloomy seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that depresses some people when the days get darker and colder. SAD can be relieved by sitting in front of light boxes that provide an indoor equivalent of a sunny day. Flaherty and Carson have begun trying to up the creativity of college students with the same treatment. Flaherty is the author of “The Midnight Disease” (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), in which she writes about the mental aspects of writing.