Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences
ISSN (Print): 2333-4371 ISSN (Online): 2333-438X Website: Editor-in-chief: Apply for this position
Open Access
Journal Browser
Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2018, 6(1), 1-8
DOI: 10.12691/rpbs-6-1-1
Open AccessArticle

In the Blink of an Eye: Ocular Proxies of Neurotransmitters Predict Creative Ability

Heather McDonald1, Léa M. Martinon2 and Leigh M. Riby2,

1Department of Psychology, King’s College, London, UK

2Department of Psychology, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK

Pub. Date: February 05, 2018

Cite this paper:
Heather McDonald, Léa M. Martinon and Leigh M. Riby. In the Blink of an Eye: Ocular Proxies of Neurotransmitters Predict Creative Ability. Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2018; 6(1):1-8. doi: 10.12691/rpbs-6-1-1


Previous research suggests that eye blink rates (EBR) can be used as an index for dopamine activity (DA) and therefore a potential marker of creative aptitude. In addition, another putative index of creativity has been linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) and eye blink duration (EBD). The current pilot study aimed to investigate whether both EBR and EBD could be used as predictors of creativity and if mood would influence these measures. Vertical electrooculograms were gathered from 12 participants, during three conditions, to enable subsequent EBR and EBD to be calculated. The three conditions comprised eyes open baseline, viewing images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) of positive and finally negative valence. Dispositional measures of creativity were measured post task using the Creative Styles Questionnaire-revised. Higher EBR was significantly related to higher scores on subcategories ‘Use of Techniques’ and ‘Use of Other People’. In addition, shorter EBD significantly correlated with higher scores of global creativity, ‘Use of Techniques’ and ‘Use of the Senses’. Results confirm that EBR and EBD can be used as predictors for creativity and may reflect DA/5-HT activity. Implications of the results are discussed in relation to specific characteristics, techniques and underlying mechanisms of creativity and how neurotransmitters drive such ability.

dopamine serotonin eye blinks emotion creativity mood IAPS

Creative CommonsThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit


[1]  Brown, R. T. (1989). Creativity. In J. A. Glover, R. R. Ronning, & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 3-32). Springer US.
[2]  Runco, M. A. (2014). Creativity: Theories and themes: Research, development, and practice. Elsevier.
[3]  Epstein, R. (1980). Defining creativity. The Behavior Analyst, 3(2), 65.
[4]  Maier, N. R. F. (1931). Reasoning in humans II. The solution of a problem and its appearance in consciousness. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 12, 181-194.
[5]  Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.
[6]  Howard-Jones, P. A. (2002). A Dual-state Model of Creative Cognition for Supporting Strategies that Foster Creativity in the Classroom. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 12(3), 215.
[7]  Jaušovec, N. (2000). Differences in Cognitive Processes Between Gifted, Intelligent, Creative, and Average Individuals While Solving Complex Problems: An EEG Study. Intelligence, 28(3), 213-237.
[8]  Fink, A., Grabner, R. H., Gebauer, D., Reishofer, G., Koschutnig, K., & Ebner, F. (2010). Enhancing creativity by means of cognitive stimulation: Evidence from an fMRI study. NeuroImage, 52(4), 1687-1695.
[9]  Kowatari, Y., Lee, S. H., Yamamura, H., Nagamori, Y., Levy, P., Yamane, S., & Yamamoto, M. (2009). Neural networks involved in artistic creativity. Human Brain Mapping, 30(5), 1678-1690.
[10]  Thagard, P., & Stewart, T. C. (2011). The AHA! Experience: Creativity Through Emergent Binding in Neural Networks. Cognitive Science, 35(1), 1-33.
[11]  Eysenck, H. J. (1993). Creativity and Personality: Suggestions for a Theory. Psychological Inquiry, 4(3), 147-178.
[12]  Flaherty, A. W. (2005). Frontotemporal and dopaminergic control of idea generation and creative drive. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 493(1), 147-153.
[13]  Trantham-Davidson, H. (2004). Mechanisms Underlying Differential D1 versus D2 Dopamine Receptor Regulation of Inhibition in Prefrontal Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 24(47), 10652-10659.
[14]  Guillin, O., Abi‐Dargham, A., & Laruelle, M. (2007). Neurobiology of Dopamine in Schizophrenia. In B.-I. R. of Neurobiology (Ed.) (Vol. 78, pp. 1-39).
[15]  Hietala, J., & Syvälahti, E. (1996). Dopamine in Schizophrenia. Annals of Medicine, 28(6), 557-561.
[16]  Hirvonen, J., Erp, T. G. M. van, Huttunen, J., Aalto, S., Någren, K., Huttunen, M., … Cannon, T. D. (2005). Increased Caudate Dopamine D2 Receptor Availability as a Genetic Marker for Schizophrenia. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(4), 371-378.
[17]  Andreasen, N. C. (1987). Creativity and mental illness. American journal of Psychiatry, 144(10), 1288-1292.
[18]  Reuter, M., Roth, S., Holve, K., & Hennig, J. (2006). Identification of first candidate genes for creativity: A pilot study. Brain Research, 1069(1), 190-197.
[19]  Canesi, M., Rusconi, M. L., Isaias, I. U., & Pezzoli, G. (2012). Artistic productivity and creative thinking in Parkinson’s disease. European Journal of Neurology, 19(3), 468-472.
[20]  Schrag, A., & Trimble, M. (2001). Poetic talent unmasked by treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders, 16(6), 1175-1176.
[21]  Ashby, F. G., & Isen, A. M. (1999). A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition. Psychological review, 106(3), 529.
[22]  Baas, M., W, K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 779-806.
[23]  Jamison, K. R. (1989). Mood disorders and patterns of creativity in British writers and artists. Psychiatry, 52(2), 125-134.
[24]  Santosa, C. M., Strong, C. M., Nowakowska, C., Wang, P. W., Rennicke, C. M., & Ketter, T. A. (2007). Enhanced creativity in bipolar disorder patients: A controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 100(1–3), 31-39.
[25]  Maçkali, Z., Gülöksüz, S., & Oral, T. (2014). Yaraticilik ve iki uçlu bozukluk. Turk Psikiyatri Derg, 50-9.
[26]  Colzato, L. S., Slagter, H. A., Spapé, M. M. A., & Hommel, B. (2008). Blinks of the eye predict blinks of the mind. Neuropsychologia, 46(13), 3179-3183.
[27]  Taylor, J. R., Elsworth, J. D., Lawrence, M. S., Sladek Jr., J. R., Roth, R. H., & Redmond Jr., D. E. (1999). Spontaneous Blink Rates Correlate with Dopamine Levels in the Caudate Nucleus of MPTP-Treated Monkeys. Experimental Neurology, 158(1), 214-220.
[28]  Kleven, M. S., & Koek, W. (1996). Differential effects of direct and indirect dopamine agonists on eye blink rate in cynomolgus monkeys. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 279(3), 1211-1219.
[29]  Karson, C. N., Dykman, R. A., & Paige, S. R. (1990). Blink rates in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 16(2), 345-354.
[30]  Hietala, J., Syvälahti, E., Vilkman, H., Vuorio, K., Räkköläinen, V., Bergman, J., … Salokangas, R. K. R. (1999). Depressive symptoms and presynaptic dopamine function in neuroleptic-naive schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, 35(1), 41-50.
[31]  Caplan, R., & Guthrie, D. (1994). Blink rate in childhood schizophrenia spectrum disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 35(4), 228-234.
[32]  Sawaguchi, T., & Goldman-Rakic, P. S. (1994). The role of D1-dopamine receptor in working memory: local injections of dopamine antagonists into the prefrontal cortex of rhesus monkeys performing an oculomotor delayed-response task. Journal of Neurophysiology, 71(2), 515-528.
[33]  Deuschl, G., & Goddemeier, C. (1998). Spontaneous and reflex activity of facial muscles in dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, and in normal subjects. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 64(3), 320-324.
[34]  Damier, P., Hirsch, E. C., Agid, Y., & Graybiel, A. M. (1999). The substantia nigra of the human brain. Brain, 122(8), 1421-1436.
[35]  Calabresi, P., Sancesario, G., & Sancesario, G. (1993). Electrophysiology of dopamine-denervated striatal neurons. Implications for Parkinson’s disease. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 116 ( Pt 2), 433-452.
[36]  Kowal, M. A., Colzato, L. S., & Hommel, B. (2011). Decreased Spontaneous Eye Blink Rates in Chronic Cannabis Users: Evidence for Striatal Cannabinoid-Dopamine Interactions. PLOS ONE, 6(11), e26662.
[37]  Park, K., Volkow, N. D., Pan, Y., & Du, C. (2013). Chronic Cocaine Dampens Dopamine Signaling during Cocaine Intoxication and Unbalances D1 over D2 Receptor Signaling. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(40), 15827-15836.
[38]  Reuter, M., Roth, S., Holve, K., & Hennig, J. (2006). Identification of first candidate genes for creativity: A pilot study. Brain Research, 1069(1), 190-197.
[39]  Volf, N. V., Kulikov, A. V., Bortsov, C. U., & Popova, N. K. (2009). Association of verbal and figural creative achievement with polymorphism in the human serotonin transporter gene. Neuroscience Letters, 463(2), 154-157.
[40]  Flaherty, A. W. (2011). Brain Illness and Creativity: Mechanisms and Treatment Risks. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(3), 132-143.
[41]  Slaby, A. E. (1992). Creativity, Depression and Suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 22(2), 157-166.
[42]  Arnulf, I., Konofal, E., Merino–Andreu, M., Houeto, J. L., Mesnage, V., Welter, M. L., … Agid, Y. (2002). Parkinson’s disease and sleepiness An integral part of PD. Neurology, 58(7), 1019-1024.
[43]  Banerjee, D., Vitiello, M. V., & Grunstein, R. R. (2004). Pharmacotherapy for excessive daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 8(5), 339-354.
[44]  Fava, M., Thase, M. E., DeBattista, C., Doghramji, K., Arora, S., & Hughes, R. J. (2007). Modafinil Augmentation of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Therapy in MDD Partial Responders with Persistent Fatigue and Sleepiness. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 19(3), 153-159.
[45]  Halliday, G. M., Blumbergs, P. C., Cotton, R. G. H., Blessing, W. W., & Geffen, L. B. (1990). Loss of brainstem serotonin- and substance P-containing neurons in Parkinson’s disease. Brain Research, 510(1), 104-107.
[46]  Nicholson, S. L., & Brotchie, J. M. (2002). 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin) and Parkinson’s disease – opportunities for novel therapeutics to reduce the problems of levodopa therapy. European Journal of Neurology, 9, 1–6.
[47]  Scatton, B., Javoy-Agid, F., Rouquier, L., Dubois, B., & Agid, Y. (1983). Reduction of cortical dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and their metabolites in Parkinson’s disease. Brain Research, 275(2), 321-328.
[48]  Yuan, Q., Joiner, W. J., & Sehgal, A. (2006). A Sleep-Promoting Role for the Drosophila Serotonin Receptor 1A. Current Biology, 16(11), 1051-1062.
[49]  Horne, J. A. (1988). Sleep loss and ‘divergent’ thinking ability. Sleep, 11(6), 528-536.
[50]  Caffier, P. P., Erdmann, U., & Ullsperger, P. (2003). Experimental evaluation of eye-blink parameters as a drowsiness measure. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(3-4), 319-325.
[51]  Häkkänen, H., Summala, H., Partinen, M., Tiihonen, M., & Silvo, J. (1999). Blink duration as an indicator of driver sleepiness in professional bus drivers. Sleep, 22(6), 798-802.
[52]  Kumar, V. K., Kemmler, D., & Holman, E. R. (1997). The Creativity Styles Questionnaire–Revised. Creativity Research Journal, 10(1), 51-58.
[53]  Chermahini, S. A., & Hommel, B. (2010). The (b)link between creativity and dopamine: Spontaneous eye blink rates predict and dissociate divergent and convergent thinking. Cognition, 115(3), 458-465.
[54]  Diehl, D. J., & Gershon, S. (1992). The role of dopamine in mood disorders. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 33(2), 115-120.
[55]  Young, S. N., & Leyton, M. (2002). The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction: Insight from altered tryptophan levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 71(4), 857-865.
[56]  Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., Cuthbert, B. N., & others. (1999). International affective picture system (IAPS): Instruction manual and affective ratings. The Center for Research in Psychophysiology, University of Florida.
[57]  Shrimpton, D., McGann, D., & Riby, L. M. (2017). Daydream Believer: Rumination, Self-Reflection and the Temporal Focus of Mind Wandering Content. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 13(4), 794-809.
[58]  Hocevar, D. (1981). Measurement of Creativity: Review and Critique. Journal of Personality Assessment, 45(5), 450-464.
[59]  Neumeister, A., Konstantinidis, A., Stastny, J., Schwarz, M. J., Vitouch, O., Willeit, M., … Kasper, S. (2002). Association Between Serotonin Transporter Gene Promoter Polymorphism (5HTTLPR) and Behavioral Responses to Tryptophan Depletion in Healthy Women With and Without Family History of Depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59(7), 613-620.
[60]  Martindale, C. (1977). Creativity, consciousness, and cortical arousal. Journal of Altered States of Consciousness, 3(1), 69-87.
[61]  Martindale, C., & Greenough, J. (1973). The Differential Effect of Increased Arousal on Creative and Intellectual Performance. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 123(2), 329-335.
[62]  Schei, V. (2013). Creative People Create Values: Creativity and Positive Arousal in Negotiations. Creativity Research Journal, 25(4), 408-417.
[63]  Clark, M. S. (2014, January). A role for arousal in the link between feeling states, judgments, and behavior. In Affect and Cognition: 17th Annual Carnegie Mellon Symposium on Cognition (p. 263). Psychology Press.
[64]  De Bono, E. (1995). Serious creativity. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 18(5), 12.
[65]  McFadzean, E. (1998). The Creativity Continuum: Towards a Classification of Creative Problem Solving Techniques. Creativity and Innovation Management, 7(3), 131-139.
[66]  Scott, G., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). The effectiveness of creativity training: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 16(4), 361-388.
[67]  Ghayas, S., & Malik, F. (2013). Sociability and academic achievement as predictors of creativity level among university students. Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology, 39(2), 266.
[68]  Ghayas, S. (2013). Sense of humor as predictor of creativity level in university undergraduates. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 23(2), 49.
[69]  Feist, G. J. (1998). A Meta-Analysis of Personality in Scientific and Artistic Creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2(4), 290-309.
[70]  Gelade, G. A. (2002). Creative style, personality, and artistic endeavor. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 128(3), 213-34.
[71]  Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
[72]  Pollet, T. V., Roberts, S. G. B., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2011). Extraverts Have Larger Social Network Layers. Journal of Individual Differences, 32(3), 161-169.
[73]  Miller, G. F., & Tal, I. R. (2007). Schizotypy versus openness and intelligence as predictors of creativity. Schizophrenia Research, 93(1-3), 317-324.
[74]  Silvia, P. J., Nusbaum, E. C., Berg, C., Martin, C., & O’Connor, A. (2009). Openness to experience, plasticity, and creativity: Exploring lower-order, high-order, and interactive effects. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(6), 1087-1090.
[75]  Hariri, A. R., & Holmes, A. (2006). Genetics of emotional regulation: the role of the serotonin transporter in neural function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(4), 182-191.
[76]  Bangerter, A., & Heath, C. (2004). The Mozart effect: Tracking the evolution of a scientific legend. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43(4), 605-623.
[77]  Kim, D.-J., & Roper, S. D. (1995). Localization of serotonin in taste buds: A comparative study in four vertebrates. The Journal of Comparative Neurology, 353(3), 364-370.