Chain Free Association, Creativity, and the Default Mode Network
Tali R. Marron1, Yulia Lerner2,3, Ety Berant1, Sivan Kinreich2, Irit Shapira-Lichter2, Talma Hendler2,3, Miriam Faust1; 1Bar-Ilan University, 2Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, 3Tel Aviv University
Research on creativity shows that creative thinking entails both executive (controlled) and associative (spontaneous) processes. Yet standard creativity tasks cannot reliably isolate these two types of cognitive processes, making it difficult to understand the relation between the two and the roles of their corresponding brain networks in creative cognition. In this study we attempted to establish chain free association (FA; verbalization of a “chain” of single-word associations, each association relating to the previous one) as a relevant method for directly investigating spontaneous associative thinking and its role in creative cognition. Participants completed common creativity tasks and then underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning while producing FA chains. Instructions to participants that emphasized the spontaneous nature of the task, coupled with proper control conditions (balanced for difficulty), enabled us to uncover spontaneous (as opposed to controlled) processes. Behavioral measures from FA chains (flexibility, fluency, and semantic remoteness) were correlated with scores on creativity tasks and brain activity. We found that: (1) chain FA elicited spontaneous thinking, as reflected in Default Mode Network (DMN) activation, and activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), superior frontal gyrus (SFG), middle frontal gyrus (MFG); (2) behavioral measures from FA chains were related to different creative abilities; (3) higher scores on different behavioral measures from FA chains were related to higher activation of the DMN, and reduced activation of the left IFG. These findings suggest that chain FA measures spontaneous associative abilities that are relevant for creative ideation and related to reduced cognitive control.
Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving