Creativity: Review of EEG, ERP, and Neuroimaging Studies of Creativity and Insight

A Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. Creativity is a cornerstone of what makes us human, yet the neural mechanisms underlying creative thinking are poorly understood. A recent surge of interest into the neural underpinnings of creative behavior has produced a banquet of data that is tantalizing but, considered as a whole, deeply self-contradictory. We review the emerging literature and take stock of several long-standing theories and widely held beliefs about creativity. A total of 72 experiments, reported in 63 articles, make up the core of the review. They broadly fall into 3 categories: divergent thinking, artistic creativity, and insight.

Electroencephalographic studies of divergent thinking yield highly variegated results. Neuroimaging studies of this paradigm also indicate no reliable changes above and beyond diffuse prefrontal activation. These findings call into question the usefulness of the divergent thinking construct in the search for the neural basis of creativity. A similarly inconclusive picture emerges for studies of artistic performance, except that this paradigm also often yields activation of motor and temporoparietal regions. Neuroelectric and imaging studies of insight are more consistent, reflecting changes in anterior cingulate cortex and prefrontal areas. Taken together, creative thinking does not appear to critically depend on any single mental process or brain region, and it is not especially associated with right brains, defocused attention, low arousal, or alpha synchronization, as sometimes hypothesized. To make creativity tractable in the brain, it must be further subdivided into different types that can be meaningfully associated with specific neurocognitive processes. We are indebted greatly to Hilde Haider for advice. Thanks also to Fida’a Chehayeb, Patrick Lewtas, Narayanan Srinivasan, and Joanne Rechdan for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the article. Authors:  Arne Dietrich , Riam Kanson.  –  Arne Dietrich. Biography: Born,

for obscure reasons, in Northern Europe, Arne Dietrich gave early promise of being nothing special whatsoever. Being annoyingly hyperactive and exceptionally stubborn as a child, some people predicted a career as a clown while others foresaw an early death. To everyone’s intense disbelief, he finished school and left his ancestral home just in time to avoid yet another rainy and overcast summer. After an entirely uneventful time in college, he spent several years globetrotting, climbing little known mountains, and bushwhacking through the jungle; a lifestyle interrupted only by the occasional date and a few phone calls to his mother. During this time, he also embarked on extended do-it-yourself introspective voyages into the hinterland of the mind. On these trips through inner space, he realized that soul searching is too treacherous without a detailed map of neuroland. For equally obscure reasons, he spent his graduate years at the University of Georgia, where he, over a hectic period of a few years, learned the nuts and bolts of neuroscience, including the ‘how to’ of publishing entirely useless stuff about the brain. He surprised his dissertation committee with a thesis that concerned such an opaque topic of neuroscience that no one even bothered to read it. But the committee refused to flunk him in utter fear he wouldn’t leave as promised. Arne Dietrich is now a tour

guide into the bizarre world of brain cells and human behavior at, of all places, the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He is still surfing the stream of consciousness every chance he gets. He prefers to work on, and spend his time in, various altered states of consciousness. His favorite one is daydreaming but he also enjoys the exercise-induced state of transient hypofrontality that comes from swimming, biking, running, or hiking for miles on end. His other interests are just as opaque as his work but somewhat more suitable to his restless and obstinate nature. Research Interests: I am a cognitive neuroscientist by training. My specific research interests lie in understanding the higher cognitive functions supported by the prefrontal cortex, focusing mostly on the neural mechanisms of (1) creative thinking, (2) altered states of consciousness (ASC), and (3) the psychological effects of exercise. My major publications include a new theory of ASC, the transient hypofrontality theory, the proposal of two new mechanistic explanations for the effects of exercise on emotion and cognition, and a new framework for the neural basis of creativity. I have also written a somewhat subversive introductory textbook on consciousness, published by Macmillan in 2007, and my research has been, mostly because of its wacky nature, featured prominently in the international press. Sources: Psychological Bulletin  & Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

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