The creative brain: investigation of brain activity during creative problem solving by means of EEG and FMRI

Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Mar;30(3):734-48. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20538.


Cortical activity in the EEG alpha band has proven to be particularly sensitive to creativity-related demands, but its functional meaning in the context of creative cognition has not been clarified yet. Specifically, increases in alpha activity (i.e., alpha synchronisation) in response to creative thinking can be interpreted in different ways: As a functional correlate of cortical idling, as a sign of internal top-down activity or, more specifically, as selective inhibition of brain regions. We measured brain activity during creative thinking in two studies employing different neurophysiological measurement methods (EEG and fMRI). In both studies, participants worked on four verbal tasks differentially drawing on creative idea generation. The EEG study revealed that the generation of original ideas was associated with alpha synchronisation in frontal brain regions and with a diffuse and widespread pattern of alpha synchronisation over parietal cortical regions. The fMRI study revealed that task performance was associated with strong activation in frontal regions of the left hemisphere. In addition, we found task-specific effects in parietotemporal brain areas. The findings suggest that EEG alpha band synchronisation during creative thinking can be interpreted as a sign of active cognitive processes rather than cortical idling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Creativity*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Problem Solving / physiology*