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Cereb Cortex. 2016 Jul;26(7):3052-63. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv130. Epub 2015 Jun 17.

Addressing a Paradox: Dual Strategies for Creative Performance in Introspective and Extrospective Networks.

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Department of Neuroscience PhD Programme in Experimental Biology and Biomedicine, Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology.
Department of Neuroscience.
IBILI-Institute for Biomedical Imaging in Life Sciences, University of Coimbra, Portugal.
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Neuroimaging studies of internally generated behaviors have shown seemingly paradoxical results regarding the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which has been found to activate, not activate or even deactivate relative to control conditions. On the one hand, the DLPFC has been argued to exert top-down control over generative thought by inhibiting habitual responses; on the other hand, a deactivation and concomitant decrease in monitoring and focused attention has been suggested to facilitate spontaneous associations and novel insights. Here, we demonstrate that prefrontal engagement in creative cognition depends dramatically on experimental conditions, that is, the goal of the task. We instructed professional pianists to perform improvisations on a piano keyboard during fMRI and play, either with a certain emotional content (happy/fearful), or using certain keys (tonal/atonal pitch-sets). We found lower activity in primarily the right DLPFC, dorsal premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex during emotional conditions compared with pitch-set conditions. Furthermore, the DLPFC was functionally connected to the default mode network during emotional conditions and to the premotor network during pitch-set conditions. The results thus support the notion of two broad cognitive strategies for creative problem solving, relying on extrospective and introspective neural circuits, respectively.


creativity; effective connectivity; fMRI; improvisation; music

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