Is creative insight task-specific? A coordinate-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on insightful problem solving

Int J Psychophysiol. 2016 Dec;110:81-90. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2016.10.001. Epub 2016 Oct 6.


The question of whether creative insight varies across problem types has recently come to the forefront of studies of creative cognition. In the present study, to address the nature of creative insight, the coordinate-based activation likelihood estimation (ALE) technique was utilized to individually conduct three quantitative meta-analyses of neuroimaging experiments that used the compound remote associate (CRA) task, the prototype heuristic (PH) task and the Chinese character chunk decomposition (CCD) task. These tasks were chosen because they are frequently used to uncover the neurocognitive correlates of insight. Our results demonstrated that creative insight reliably activates largely non-overlapping brain regions across task types, with the exception of some shared regions: the CRA task mainly relied on the right parahippocampal gyrus, the superior frontal gyrus and the inferior frontal gyrus; the PH task primarily depended on the right middle occipital gyrus (MOG), the bilateral superior parietal lobule/precuneus, the left inferior parietal lobule, the left lingual gyrus and the left middle frontal gyrus; and the CCD task activated a broad cerebral network consisting of most dorsolateral and medial prefrontal regions, frontoparietal regions and the right MOG. These results provide the first neural evidence of the task dependence of creative insight. The implications of these findings for resolving conflict surrounding the different theories of creative cognition and for defining insight as a set of heterogeneous processes are discussed.

Keywords: Chunk decomposition; Insight; Neuroimage; Prototype-heuristic; Remote association.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Creativity*
  • Functional Neuroimaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving / physiology*