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Poster E151

How complex is creativity? The functional dissimilarity of brain regions tracks differences in cognitive complexity

Poster Session E - Monday, April 15, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Daniel Zeitlen1, Kaixiang Zhuang2, Jiang Qiu2, Roger Beaty1; 1Pennsylvania State University, 2Southwest University

Creative thinking is a complex, higher-order form of cognition which relies on the integration of various component processes, such as memory and attention. A recent study found that the brain achieves such cognitive integration via the communication of functionally dissimilar regions—regions serving very different purposes (e.g., a visual region and a memory region)—thereby supporting creativity. This previous study also identified progressive levels of functional dissimilarity, in which only the highest levels were related to creativity; yet it remains unclear whether these levels track cognitive complexity, and how the complexity of creativity compares to similar forms of cognition. Therefore, in the present study (N=28), we used task-based fMRI to compare creative cognition (producing metaphors and generating novel object uses) to similar forms of cognition thought to primarily vary in complexity (generating common word associations, uncommon word associations, and bi-associations). We examined relationships between the functional dissimilarity levels and brain activity during each cognitive task. We found that the functional dissimilarity levels robustly track the complexity of cognition (Spearman's rho = .93): the highest levels were related to metaphor production and bi-association (both tasks involve integrating two concepts), followed by uncommon association and novel use generation (both involve expanding one concept), with common association at the lowest level. These findings support the validity of the functional dissimilarity levels as a neural feature that scales with cognitive complexity, and provide novel evidence on the complexity of creative thinking, including that metaphor production is a more complex process than novel use generation.

Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving


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April 13–16  |  2024