Developmental research has found that children's creative thinking ability tends to decline during middle childhood. However, this decline has not been consistently demonstrated, and the underlying neural and behavioral factors that affect fluctuations in children's creative thinking ability remain uncharacterized. Using a longitudinal cohort-sequential experimental design, we investigated the neurobehavioral basis of creative thinking ability during middle childhood in a sample of 48 children (n = 21 starting 3rd grade, n = 27 starting 4th grade) assessed longitudinally at three time-points across one year. For the first time, we used data-driven methods to reveal distinct trajectories in creative thinking ability during middle childhood. We found that although some children show a classic decline in creative ability, others exhibit a significant increase in creativity over time. These trajectories were not associated with differences in intelligence, age, or sex, but rather other developmentally-relevant constructs, including heightened externalizing behavior (i.e., rule-breaking and aggression). Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in a smaller cohort (n = 26), we examined longitudinal changes in bilateral frontal neural connectivity and found that increased right lateral frontal segregation or functional specialization tracked developmental improvements in creative thinking ability. Taken together, the findings reveal distinct profiles of change in creative thinking ability during middle childhood and identify behavioral and neural mechanisms potentially underlying changes in children's ability to think creatively.
Keywords: Creativity; Developmental changes; Neuroimaging.
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