A meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on divergent thinking using activation likelihood estimation

Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Jul;36(7):2703-18. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22801. Epub 2015 Apr 18.


In this study, an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis was used to conduct a quantitative investigation of neuroimaging studies on divergent thinking. Based on the ALE results, the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies showed that distributed brain regions were more active under divergent thinking tasks (DTTs) than those under control tasks, but a large portion of the brain regions were deactivated. The ALE results indicated that the brain networks of the creative idea generation in DTTs may be composed of the lateral prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex [such as the inferior parietal lobule (BA 40) and precuneus (BA 7)], anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (BA 32), and several regions in the temporal cortex [such as the left middle temporal gyrus (BA 39), and left fusiform gyrus (BA 37)]. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 46) was related to selecting the loosely and remotely associated concepts and organizing them into creative ideas, whereas the ACC (BA 32) was related to observing and forming distant semantic associations in performing DTTs. The posterior parietal cortex may be involved in the semantic information related to the retrieval and buffering of the formed creative ideas, and several regions in the temporal cortex may be related to the stored long-term memory. In addition, the ALE results of the structural studies showed that divergent thinking was related to the dopaminergic system (e.g., left caudate and claustrum). Based on the ALE results, both fMRI and structural MRI studies could uncover the neural basis of divergent thinking from different aspects (e.g., specific cognitive processing and stable individual difference of cognitive capability).

Keywords: MRI studies; activation likelihood estimation; creativity; divergent thinking.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Creativity*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult