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Over the last two decades we have begun to gain some traction on the neural systems that underlie creative cognition in young adults. Specifically, neuroimaging experiments have revealed that creativity across several domains arises from the interaction of two large-scale systems in the brain: whereas the default mode network (DMN) is involved in the generation of novel ideas, the executive control network (ECN) exerts top-down regulation on the generative process to ensure the production of task-appropriate output. However, much less is known about the contributions of the DMN and the ECN – including specific structures within each network – to creative cognition at various time points throughout development. In this chapter I will review the nascent but growing cross-sectional literature on the neurological bases of creativity in the adolescent and the aging brain, which together with data from young adults provides a snapshot into the developmental bases of creativity across the lifespan. I will also outline avenues for future research in order to develop more sophisticated models of the developing creative brain, including investigations into the trajectory of change in the cerebral cortex, as well as the dynamics of synaptogenesis in relation to creativity.
There has been long-standing interest in the biological bases of creativity and genius throughout history. Much of the earlier work in this area involved efforts to understand the genetic bases of creativity. More recently, however, and due in major part to technological advances in modern neuroimaging and theoretical advances in psychology, the focus has shifted to studying the relationship between creativity and brain structure and function – represented by a burgeoning discipline referred to as the neuroscience of creativity. Because it is always important to understand the historical roots of ideas, I will review some important early ideas introduced by Sir Francis Galton that were meant to measure the heritability of genius. I will argue that creativity is most likely an emergenic trait, meaning that it is expressed in a number of independent subtraits or abilities that are simultaneously present in a person. This idea holds also for the neurological bases of creativity, because at the level of the brain, it has also been shown that creativity emerges not as a function of a single brain region, process, or mechanism but rather as an emergent property of the dynamic interplay between spontaneous and controlled processes. In this sense, the neural bases of creativity also appear to be componential. In this chapter, I will conduct a selective review of some of the key empirical work from neuroimaging to highlight the contributions of this research to our understanding of creativity. Toward that end, I will review findings from early brain-mapping approaches and will end with presenting contemporary models based on network dynamics (i.e., interactions among networks).
Imagination – either explicitly or implicitly – plays an important role in contemporary conceptions of creativity. In contrast, imagination has not been given the same weight in most mainstream modern models of aesthetic experience. I argue that imagination is an important component of aesthetic experience in at least two ways. First, imagination likely guides our search for meaning when interacting with artworks. It can do so by driving our search for the underlying concepts and causes that originated the artwork, as well as facilitating internally generated thoughts. Second, imagination can facilitate transitions from states of uncertainty to states of increased predictability in the course of interacting with artworks. As such, models of aesthetic experience would benefit by explicitly incorporating imagination into their frameworks.
Over the last two decades, knowledge about brain structure and function has improved our understanding of the psychology of creativity. Importantly, contributions from cognitive neuroscience to our understanding of the psychology of creativity have been accelerated due to parallel advances in theoretical and methodological approaches to the scientific study of creativity. Chief among these have been the appreciation of the roles of personality, attention and memory, fluid intelligence, and executive functions to creative cognition. The evidence to date suggests that creativity is an emergent property of the dynamic interplay between spontaneous and controlled processes in the brain. In this chapter, I conduct a selective review of some of the key empirical work from neuropsychology, neuroimaging, and experimental psychology to highlight the contributions of this burgeoning field to our understanding of creativity. I will also highlight some of the limitations of the cognitive neuroscience approach to studying creativity and emphasize the need for a holistic research program for a more complete understanding of this multifaceted phenomenon.