What happens in your brain when you have an Aha -moment?

While creativity is a construct that is hard to define and creative performance is even harder to measure, the common phenomenon “Aha Moment” is linked to many creative achievements. Signified as the process of linking old knowledge in an original way, it is thought to be an important component of creative problem solving.

Our lab is part of the CREAM (creativity enhancement through advanced brain mapping and stimulation) project. As members of this multidisciplinary EU Consortium we investigate neural activity during creative thinking.

Neuroimaging creative problem solving using ultra-high field fMRI

Using 7T fMRI in combination with a sophisticated task paradigm we were able to find highly significant activation patterns during this moment of insight (Aha). Specifically the brain areas that are involved in language processing and memory formation show increased activation when subjects solved problems with insight. Most importantly creative problem solving could be linked to activation changes in subcortical motivational and affective regions. These are part of the dopamine-circuit and can explain the strong excitement, joy, and certainty associated with suddenly finding a solution through insight.

Contrast for solutions found with vs. without insight

Moreover while trying to find creative solutions to a given task, heightened activity in a specific dorsolateral prefrontal area preceded the solution findings that are characterized by insights. Therefore it is promising to stimulate this node with non-invasive brain stimulation techniques in an attempt to facilitate insightful thinking.

The results of our first series of experiments were presented at the 2015 OHBM Annual Meeting in Honolulu (Hawaii, USA) and selected for the highly competitive Merit Abstract Award.