Put on your (fNIRS) thinking cap: Frontopolar activation during augmented state creativity

Behav Brain Res. 2019 Nov 5:373:112082. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112082. Epub 2019 Jul 10.


Thinking creatively requires the ability to consciously augment creative insight through processes such as analogical reasoning and relational cognition. Prior work has examined augmented states of creativity using a modified verb generation task which requires brief engagement in attempts to think creatively during MRI. In this study, we employed the verb generation task to examine augmented creative states and frontopolar cortex activation in a less-constrained setting using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Participants (n = 29) were presented with a noun and were required to think of an associated verb. In 50% of the trials, participants were instructed to 'think creatively' (cued condition) as opposed to stating the first or most prominent verb that came to mind (uncued condition). The task was administered in French to native speakers. Hemodynamic responses were recorded over the frontopolar cortex using fNIRS. The relatedness of the noun-verb pairs was calculated and other measures of creativity (the Alternate Uses Test, Compound Remote Associate Test and the Biographical Inventory of Creative Behaviors) were recorded. We showed that in the cued condition, semantic scores were higher (indicating more creative responses), positively associated with other measures of creativity, and changes in oxygenated hemoglobin were larger and more extensive in the left frontopolar cortex, than in the uncued condition. Our findings support the use of the verb generation task (administered in French) to augment creative states and provides further validation of the use of the task to capture creativity (i.e., processes involved in generating creative responses through distant associations). We highlight the use of fNIRS to measure associated regional changes in frontopolar cortex activity during augmented states of creativity.

Keywords: Cerebral cortex; Cortical activity; Near infrared spectroscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Creativity*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Semantics
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult