Evaluative and generative modes of thought during the creative process

Melissa Ellamil*, Charles Dobson, Mark Beeman, Kalina Christoff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

294 Scopus citations


Psychological theories have suggested that creativity involves a twofold process characterized by a generative component facilitating the production of novel ideas and an evaluative component enabling the assessment of their usefulness. The present study employed a novel fMRI paradigm designed to distinguish between these two components at the neural level. Participants designed book cover illustrations while alternating between the generation and evaluation of ideas. The use of an fMRI-compatible drawing tablet allowed for a more natural drawing and creative environment. Creative generation was associated with preferential recruitment of medial temporal lobe regions, while creative evaluation was associated with joint recruitment of executive and default network regions and activation of the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, insula, and temporopolar cortex. Executive and default regions showed positive functional connectivity throughout task performance. These findings suggest that the medial temporal lobe may be central to the generation of novel ideas and creative evaluation may extend beyond deliberate analytical processes supported by executive brain regions to include more spontaneous affective and visceroceptive evaluative processes supported by default and limbic regions. Thus, creative thinking appears to recruit a unique configuration of neural processes not typically used together during traditional problem solving tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1783-1794
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 16 2012


  • Creativity
  • Goal-directed thought
  • Idea evaluation
  • Idea generation
  • Spontaneous thought

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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