Increases in EEG alpha power during creative ideation are among the most consistent findings in the neuroscientific study of creativity, but existing studies did not focus on time-related changes of EEG alpha activity patterns during the process of creative ideation so far. Since several cognitive processes are involved in the generation of creative ideas, different EEG correlates may result as a function of time. In this study we addressed this crucial point. Forty-five participants worked on the "Alternative Uses Task" while the EEG was recorded and changes in task-related power (relative to rest) in the upper-frequency band (10-12 Hz) for three isochronous time intervals of the idea generation period were determined. Alpha power changes during idea generation followed a characteristic time course: we found a general increase of alpha power at the beginning of idea generation that was followed by a decrease and finally by a re-increase of alpha prior to responding that was most pronounced at parietal and temporal sites of the right hemisphere. Additionally, the production of more original ideas was accompanied by increasing hemispheric asymmetry (more alpha in the right than left hemisphere) with increasing duration of the idea generation period. The observed time course of brain activity may reflect the progression of different but well-known stages in the idea generation process: that is the initial retrieval of common and old ideas followed by the actual generation of novel and more creative ideas by overcoming typical responses through processes of mental simulation and imagination.
Keywords: EEG; alpha power; creative ideation; divergent thinking; time-course.