Creative constraints: Brain activity and network dynamics underlying semantic interference during idea production

Roger E. Beaty, Alexander P. Christensen, Mathias Benedek, Paul J. Silvia, Daniel L. Schacter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Functional neuroimaging research has recently revealed brain network interactions during performance on creative thinking tasks—particularly among regions of the default and executive control networks—but the cognitive mechanisms related to these interactions remain poorly understood. Here we test the hypothesis that the executive control network can interact with the default network to inhibit salient conceptual knowledge (i.e., pre-potent responses) elicited from memory during creative idea production. Participants studied common noun-verb pairs and were given a cued-recall test with corrective feedback to strengthen the paired association in memory. They then completed a verb generation task that presented either a previously studied noun (high-constraint) or an unstudied noun (low-constraint), and were asked to “think creatively” while searching for a novel verb to relate to the presented noun. Latent Semantic Analysis of verbal responses showed decreased semantic distance values in the high-constraint (i.e., interference) condition, which corresponded to increased neural activity within regions of the default (posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral angular gyri), salience (right anterior insula), and executive control (left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) networks. Independent component analysis of intrinsic functional connectivity networks extended this finding by revealing differential interactions among these large-scale networks across the task conditions. The results suggest that interactions between the default and executive control networks underlie response inhibition during constrained idea production, providing insight into specific neurocognitive mechanisms supporting creative cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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