Temporal dynamics of Brain Activation during Concept Generation

Dr. Shealy and colleagues recently presented a conference paper at ICDC about temporal Dynamics of Brain Activation during Three Concept Generation Techniques. The figure shows the transition paths of the highest activated channels across time for (a) brainstorming, (b) morphological analysis,

and (c) TRIZ. The black numbers refer to the time deciles and the colored circles refer to the channels. The base of brain image is provided by the © Society for Neuroscience (2017).

What the results from our research show is the consistent activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) when using all three techniques (brainstorming, morphological analysis, and TRIZ). The recruitment of activation in the mPFC was previously shown to be associated with cognitive empathy and memory association during concept generation.

Additional highly activated sub-regions of the PFC during brainstorming (unstructured design technique) and morphological analysis (semi-structured) are more frequent in the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere of the PFC is generally associated with divergent thinking.

When using TRIZ (a more structured design technique), the left part of the PFC is in higher demand compared to the right. With an increase in problem structuring, activation switches from the medial right to the medial left part of the PFC. These changes are likely to impact how information is transmitted within regions of the PFC and other parts of the brain. This could be related to the structured dual processing between divergent and convergent thinking that concept generation requires.

More research is required to strengthen the relationship between cognitive and neurocognitive results. Future work will begin to tackle that issue through the concurrent analysis of verbal protocols of designers to infer their cognitive processes and of neurophysiological signals accounting for designers’ brain activation. A better understanding of designers’ minds and brains while designing will open avenues for the development of new tools to assist in designing and enhance creativity.

The research presented at ICDC is funded in part by The National Science Foundation, through Grant EEC-1929892 and EEC-1929896.