Creativity involved every aspect of social life. Numerous brain imaging researchers had explored the activation in the brain using a myriad of creative tasks, such as divergent thinking tasks, verbal and figural creative tasks, mental imagery, the generation of creative stories and paintings. Scientific innovation was one of the most important forms of creative thinking. The cases of creation and innovation happened in the real world had been used to study the mechanism behind creativity. However, the functions of implicated brain regions remained poorly understood. The present study employed resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) to investigate the neural substrates for the process of the scientific innovation problem solving.
In the present study, 65 scientific innovation problems were selected from the real world and divided into novel scientific innovation (NSI) problems and old scientific innovation (OSI) problems (36 NSI problems and 29 OSI problems). Each problem consisted of two parts: heuristic prototype and the corresponding question. Numerous studies showed that the heuristic prototype inspired the solution of insightful problems. The modified “learning-test two-phase” paradigm was used. Specifically, we asked the subjects to learn all the heuristic prototypes one day before the experiment, and then resolve the corresponding problems randomly in the test phase of the experiment. 16 undergraduates (mean age = 21.19 ± 1.76) were enrolled in the experiment. The rs-fMRI data was acquired using Echo Planar Imaging (EPI) sequence from a 3-T Siemens Magnetom Trio scanner (Siemens Medical, Erlangen, Germany) with a 12-channel phased-array head coil housed at MRI center of Southwest University. This scanning acquired 242 volumes in 8 min and 8 sec. Brain imaging data was processed and analyzed using the REST (Resting-State fMRI Data Analysis Toolkit) toolbox to calculate ReHo (Regional Homogeneity) and ALFF (Amplitude of Low Frequency Fluctuation). We used both ReHo and ALFF to measure the local properties of rs-fMRI signals, and then investigated the relationship between ReHo/ALFF and individual differences in creativity, as measured by the NSI problem solving. The multiple comparisons correction was calculated using the AlphaSim program in REST software.
After controlling for the age, gender and the accuracy rate of OSI problem solving, the results of multiple regression analysis showed that the ReHo of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was positively correlated with creativity as measured by the accuracy rate of NSI problem solving. The results of the analysis of ALFF were consistent with that of ReHo.
The result of both ReHo and ALFF implied that the ACC was played an important role in the process of scientific innovation problem solving. We discussed the role of the ACC from two aspects: one involved in breaking the thinking set and forming the novel association, another involved in the demand of information processing.