Prior research has indicated that brain regions and networks that support semantic memory, top-down and bottom-up attention, and cognitive control are all involved in divergent creative thinking. Kernels of evidence suggest that neural processes supporting episodic memory - the retrieval of particular elements of prior experiences - may also be involved in divergent thinking, but such processes have typically been characterized as not very relevant for, or even a hindrance to, creative output. In the present study, we combine functional magnetic resonance imaging with an experimental manipulation to test formally, for the first time, episodic memory's involvement in divergent thinking. Following a manipulation that facilitates detailed episodic retrieval, we observed greater neural activity in the hippocampus and stronger connectivity between a core brain network linked to episodic processing and a frontoparietal brain network linked to cognitive control during divergent thinking relative to an object association control task that requires little divergent thinking. Stronger coupling following the retrieval manipulation extended to a subsequent resting-state scan. Neural effects of the episodic manipulation were consistent with behavioral effects of enhanced idea production on divergent thinking but not object association. The results indicate that conceptual frameworks should accommodate the idea that episodic retrieval can function as a component process of creative idea generation, and highlight how the brain flexibly utilizes the retrieval of episodic details for tasks beyond simple remembering.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience