Rostral and caudal prefrontal contribution to creativity: a meta-analysis of functional imaging data

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Aug 14;7:465. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00465. eCollection 2013.


Creativity is of central importance for human civilization, yet its neurocognitive bases are poorly understood. The aim of the present study was to integrate existing functional imaging data by using the meta-analysis approach. We reviewed 34 functional imaging studies that reported activation foci during tasks assumed to engage creative thinking in healthy adults. A coordinate-based meta-analysis using Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) first showed a set of predominantly left-hemispheric regions shared by the various creativity tasks examined. These regions included the caudal lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), the medial and lateral rostral PFC, and the inferior parietal and posterior temporal cortices. Further analyses showed that tasks involving the combination of remote information (combination tasks) activated more anterior areas of the lateral PFC than tasks involving the free generation of unusual responses (unusual generation tasks), although both types of tasks shared caudal prefrontal areas. In addition, verbal and non-verbal tasks involved the same regions in the left caudal prefrontal, temporal, and parietal areas, but also distinct domain-oriented areas. Taken together, these findings suggest that several frontal and parieto-temporal regions may support cognitive processes shared by diverse creativity tasks, and that some regions may be specialized for distinct types of processes. In particular, the lateral PFC appeared to be organized along a rostro-caudal axis, with rostral regions involved in combining ideas creatively and more posterior regions involved in freely generating novel ideas.

Keywords: creative thinking; creativity; divergent thinking; functional imaging; insight problem solving; meta-analysis; originality; semantic associations.