Functional neuroimaging of visual creativity: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Laura M. Pidgeon, Madeleine Grealy, Alex H.B. Duffy, Laura Hay, Christopher McTeague, Tijana Vuletic, Damien Coyle, Sam J. Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: The generation of creative visual imagery contributes to technological and scientific innovation, and production of visual art. The underlying cognitive and neural processes are however poorly understood. Methods: This review synthesises functional neuroimaging studies of visual creativity. Seven functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and 19 electroencephalography (EEG) studies were included, comprising 27 experiments and around 800 participants. Results: Activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis of the fMRI studies comparing visual creativity to non-rest control tasks yielded significant clusters in thalamus, left fusiform gyrus, and right middle and inferior frontal gyri. The EEG studies revealed a tendency for decreased alpha power during visual creativity compared to baseline, but comparisons of visual creativity to non-rest control tasks revealed inconsistent findings. Conclusions: The findings are consistent with suggested contributions to visual creativity of prefrontally-mediated inhibition, evaluation and working memory, as well as visual imagery processes. Findings are discussed in relation to prominent theories of the neural basis of creativity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00540
Number of pages26
JournalBrain and Behavior
Early online date11 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2016


  • visual creativity
  • creative ideation
  • creative thinking
  • visual design
  • visual imagery
  • fMRI
  • EEG
  • idea generation
  • ideation


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