The cognitive neuroscience of creativity

Psychon Bull Rev. 2004 Dec;11(6):1011-26. doi: 10.3758/bf03196731.


This article outlines a framework of creativity based on functional neuroanatomy. Recent advances in the field of cognitive neuroscience have identified distinct brain circuits that are involved in specific higher brain functions. To date, these findings have not been applied to research on creativity. It is proposed that there are four basic types of creative insights, each mediated by a distinctive neural circuit. By definition, creative insights occur in consciousness. Given the view that the working memory buffer of the prefrontal cortex holds the content of consciousness, each of the four distinctive neural loops terminates there. When creativity is the result of deliberate control, as opposed to spontaneous generation, the prefrontal cortex also instigates the creative process. Both processing modes, deliberate and spontaneous, can guide neural computation in structures that contribute emotional content and in structures that provide cognitive analysis, yielding the four basic types of creativity. Supportive evidence from psychological, cognitive, and neuroscientific studies is presented and integrated in this article. The new theoretical framework systematizes the interaction between knowledge and creative thinking, and how the nature of this relationship changes as a function of domain and age. Implications for the arts and sciences are briefly discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Cognition*
  • Creativity*
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences / methods*