Cerebrum Winter 2020

A controversial question in creativity research concerns the phenomenon of cognitive control: our capacity to regulate the contents of our minds.

allowed us to determine which brain regions were common and unique to episodic (remembering and imagining) and creative thinking. We found that memory, imagination, and creative thinking all activated the bilateral hippocampus. This finding builds on other recent work on memory and creativity using episodic specificity induction, a procedure in which participants are trained to recall episodic memories in a high degree of detail. These studies found that episodic specificity induction (which strongly engages the default network) can improve creative divergent thinking: after the induction (they were instructed to recall in detail a recently- watched video), participants produced significantly more ideas, and these ideas were significantly more variable in their topics. A subsequent fMRI study found that the episodic induction process boosted activity in the left

network—can allow new ideas to come to mind that might not have otherwise. On the other hand, serendipity and spontaneity alone do not guarantee either novelty or usefulness: we often need to redirect our thought processes away from what we already know and think hard about whether our ideas will actually work. This highlights two key elements of the creative thought process: idea generation and idea evaluation. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to provide insight into these two sides of creativity. For example, one fMRI study asked visual artists to generate and evaluate ideas for a book cover based on short written descriptions. During idea generation, activation of the hippocampus and default network increased, presumably reflecting engagement of the episodic system. During idea evaluation, where artists were asked to critique their drawings, they again activated hippocampal and default regions, and also frontal brain regions associated with cognitive control, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Most interestingly, the analysis also showed increased communication (i.e., functional connectivity) between these regions during idea evaluation, suggesting cooperation between the spontaneous/generative aspects of the default network and the deliberate/ evaluative aspects of the control network. These networks typically work in a complementary fashion: when one activates, the other tends to deactivate. When we let our minds wander, for example, we engage the default network, without needing to focus our attention through our control networks; conversely, when we try to focus our attention on a given task, we need our control network to work

anterior hippocampus, linking creative performance to heightened activity in a brain region strongly associated with episodic memory. Together, these findings provide clear evidence that the hippocampus—as part of the medial temporal lobe subsystem of the default network—supports the generation of creative ideas: more proof that the same brain region that supports our ability to remember also supports our ability to imagine and create. Directing Creative Thought A controversial question in creativity research concerns the phenomenon of cognitive control: our capacity to regulate the contents of our minds. Does creative thinking happen spontaneously, or can we deliberately direct the process? On the one hand, relaxing the filter on our brains by letting our minds wander—a process governed by the hippocampus and default


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