Dissociable neural systems for analogy and metaphor: implications for the neuroscience of creativity

Br J Psychol. 2012 Aug;103(3):302-16. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02073.x. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Two recent reviews of the neuroimaging literature on creativity have pointed to inconsistent findings across studies, calling into question the usefulness of the theoretical constructs motivating the search for its neural bases. However, it is argued that consistent patterns of neural activation do emerge when the cognitive process and the neuroimaging method are kept uniform across studies. To demonstrate this empirically, the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method was used to conduct quantitative meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments of analogy and metaphor - two processes related to creativity and included in the recent reviews. The results demonstrated that analogy and metaphor reliably activate consistent but dissociable brain regions across fMRI studies. The implications of the findings for cognitive theories of analogy and metaphor are discussed. Furthermore, these results demonstrate that to the extent that creativity has heterogeneous sources, its neural instantiation will vary as a function of the underlying cognitive processes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Association
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Creativity*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Metaphor*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology