Functional magnetic resonance imaging of divergent and convergent thinking in Big-C creativity

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Abstract

The cognitive and physiological processes underlying creativity remain unclear, and very few studies to date have attempted to identify the behavioral and brain characteristics that distinguish exceptional (“Big-C”) from everyday (“little-c”) creativity. The Big-C Project examined functional brain responses during tasks demanding divergent and convergent thinking in 35 Big-C Visual Artists (VIS), 41 Big-C Scientists (SCI), and 31 individuals in a “smart comparison group” (SCG) matched to the Big-C groups on parental educational attainment and estimated IQ. Functional MRI (fMRI) scans included two activation paradigms widely used in prior creativity research, the Alternate Uses Task (AUT) and Remote Associates Task (RAT), to assess brain function during divergent and convergent thinking, respectively. Task performance did not differ between groups. Functional MRI activation in Big-C and SCG groups differed during the divergent thinking task. No differences in activation were seen during the convergent thinking task. Big-C groups had less activation than SCG in frontal pole, right frontal operculum, left middle frontal gyrus, and bilaterally in occipital cortex. SCI displayed lower frontal and parietal activation relative to the SCG when generating alternate uses in the AUT, while VIS displayed lower frontal activation than SCI and SCG when generating typical qualities (the control condition in the AUT). VIS showed more activation in right inferior frontal gyrus and left supramarginal gyrus relative to SCI. All groups displayed considerable overlapping activation during the RAT. The results confirm substantial overlap in functional activation across groups, but suggest that exceptionally creative individuals may depend less on task-positive networks during tasks that demand divergent thinking.

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