Episodic memory and cognitive control: Contributions to creative idea production

Roger E. Beaty, Daniel L. Schacter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


Creative ideas have long been considered to result from the flexible combination of concepts stored in long-term memory (Mednick, 1962). Seminal creativity theories emphasized the contribution of semantic memory and the spreading activation of concepts within semantic networks as central to creative idea production. Recently, however, it has become clear that in addition to semantic memory, other cognitive systems make important contributions to the production of creative ideas. In this chapter, we highlight two such systems - episodic memory and cognitive control - with a focus on the brain networks thought to support these processes. We describe recent behavioral work on the contributions of episodic memory and cognitive control to creative thought. We also address neuroimaging evidence on brain mechanisms supporting episodic memory and cognitive control during creative idea production, with an emphasis on functional brain networks and their interactions. The chapter concludes by describing a framework that incorporates the multiple neurocognitive systems underlying creative ideation. Cognitive Control and the Frontoparietal Control Network An increasing body of behavioral evidence indicates that creative thought can benefit from cognitive control and executive functions. These core cognitive abilities allow people to monitor and direct mental activity in a goal-directed manner. Although executive functions have historically been studied in the context of cognitive tasks that require sustained external attention (e.g., complex working memory span tasks; Kane et al., 2004), recent work has begun to explore the role of executive cognition in tasks involving sustained internal attention, such as creative divergent thinking (Benedek et al., 2016). Several recent studies have examined individual differences in executive processes and creative cognitive ability using an individual differences approach. An emerging consensus from this work is that creative thought recruits higher-order processes associated with executive functions, including fluid intelligence, broad retrieval ability, and inhibitory control. The Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) model of human intelligence defines several lower-order cognitive abilities that underlie a higher-order general intelligence factor (McGrew, 2009). Individual variation in these abilities has been shown to predict aspects of creative cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781316556238
ISBN (Print)9781107147614
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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