Spontaneous cognition and its relationship to human creativity: A functional connectivity study involving a chain free association task

Tali R. Marron, Ety Berant, Vadim Axelrod, Miriam Faust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) between various brain regions is thought to be associated with creative abilities. Extensive research correlating RSFC with performance on creativity tasks has revealed some of the RSFC patterns characterizing ‘the creative brain’. Yet, our understanding of the neurocognitive processes underlying creative thinking still remains limited. This limitation results, in part, from the fact that standard creativity tasks used in these studies do not distinguish between the different modes of cognitive processing that are critical in creative cognition (e.g., spontaneous cognition vs. controlled cognition). In the present fMRI research we address this limitation by using a chain free association task ​− ​a task that we have recently refined and validated for the purpose of isolating measures of spontaneous cognition that are relevant for creative thinking (referred to as associative fluency and associative flexibility). In our study, 27 female participants completed standardized creativity tasks, a chain free association task, and a fMRI scan in which RSFC was measured. Our results indicate that higher scores on associative fluency are associated with stronger positive RSFC within the default mode network (DMN; i.e., between DMN regions). Critically, we provide evidence that the previously-identified relationship between performance on creativity tasks and connectivity within the DMN is partially mediated by associative fluency. Thus, our observations suggest that the heightened DMN connectivity observed in ‘the creative brain’ can be explained, at least to some extent, by spontaneous cognition. Overall, our study identifies unique RSFC patterns that are related specifically to spontaneous cognitive processes involved in creative ideation, thus shedding new light on mechanisms of creative processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117064
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to Professor Talma Hendler for her devoted help and knowledge and for her thoughtful feedback and assistance throughout this research, and to Karen Marron for her skillful editing and creative input. This research was supported by the I-CORE Program of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and The Israel Science Foundation (grant No. 51/11 ). The funding source had no involvement in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Creative cognition
  • Default mode network
  • Free association
  • Resting state functional connectivity
  • Spontaneous cognition
  • fMRI


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