A meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of divergent thinking using activation likelihood estimation

Hum Brain Mapp. 2020 Dec;41(17):5057-5077. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25170. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


There are conflicting findings regarding brain regions and networks underpinning creativity, with divergent thinking tasks commonly used to study this. A handful of meta-analyses have attempted to synthesise findings on neural mechanisms of divergent thinking. With the rapid proliferation of research and recent developments in fMRI meta-analysis approaches, it is timely to reassess the regions activated during divergent thinking creativity tasks. Of particular interest is examining the evidence regarding large-scale brain networks proposed to be key in divergent thinking and extending this work to consider the role of the semantic control network. Studies utilising fMRI with healthy participants completing divergent thinking tasks were systematically identified, with 20 studies meeting the criteria. Activation Likelihood Estimation was then used to integrate the neuroimaging results across studies. This revealed four clusters: the left inferior parietal lobe; the left inferior frontal and precentral gyrus; the superior and medial frontal gyrus and the right cerebellum. These regions are key in the semantic network, important for flexible retrieval of stored knowledge, highlighting the role of this network in divergent thinking.

Keywords: ALE; divergent; fMRI; meta-analysis; semantic control network.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cerebellum / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Creativity
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / statistics & numerical data
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*