Thinking Cap Plus Thinking Zap: tDCS of Frontopolar Cortex Improves Creative Analogical Reasoning and Facilitates Conscious Augmentation of State Creativity in Verb Generation

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Abstract

Recent neuroimaging evidence indicates neural mechanisms that support transient improvements in creative performance (augmented state creativity) in response to cognitive interventions (creativity cueing). Separately, neural interventions via tDCS show encouraging potential for modulating neuronal function during creative performance. If cognitive and neural interventions are separately effective, can they be combined? Does state creativity augmentation represent “real” creativity, or do interventions simply yield divergence by diminishing meaningfulness/appropriateness? Can augmenting state creativity bolster creative reasoning that supports innovation, particularly analogical reasoning? To address these questions, we combined tDCS with creativity cueing. Testing a regionally specific hypothesis from neuroimaging, high-definition tDCS-targeted frontopolar cortex activity recently shown to predict state creativity augmentation. In a novel analogy finding task, participants under tDCS formulated substantially more creative analogical connections in a large matrix search space (creativity indexed via latent semantic analysis). Critically, increased analogical creativity was not due to diminished accuracy in discerning valid analogies, indicating “real” creativity rather than inappropriate divergence. A simpler relational creativity paradigm (modified verb generation) revealed a tDCS-by-cue interaction; tDCS further enhanced creativity cue-related increases in semantic distance. Findings point to the potential of noninvasive neuromodulation to enhance creative relational cognition, including augmentation of the deliberate effort to formulate connections between distant concepts.

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