The relation between gray matter morphology and divergent thinking in adolescents and young adults

Janna Cousijn, P Cédric M P Koolschijn, Kiki Zanolie, Sietske W Kleibeuker, Eveline A Crone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Adolescence and early adulthood are developmental time periods during which creative cognition is highly important for adapting to environmental changes. Divergent thinking, which refers to generating novel and useful solutions to open-ended problems, has often been used as a measure of creative cognition. The first goal of this structural neuroimaging study was to elucidate the relationship between gray matter morphology and performance in the verbal (AUT; alternative uses task) and visuo-spatial (CAT; creative ability test) domain of divergent thinking in adolescents and young adults. The second goal was to test if gray matter morphology is related to brain activity during AUT performance. Neural and behavioral data were combined from a cross-sectional study including 25 adolescents aged 15-17 and 20 young adults aged 25-30. Brain-behavior relationships were assessed without a priori location assumptions and within areas that were activated during an AUT-scanner task. Gray matter volume and cortical thickness were not significantly associated with verbal divergent thinking. However, visuo-spatial divergent thinking (CAT originality and fluency) was positively associated with cortical thickness of the right middle temporal gyrus and left brain areas including the superior frontal gyrus and various occipital, parietal, and temporal areas, independently of age. AUT brain activity was not associated with cortical thickness. The results support an important role of a widespread brain network involved in flexible visuo-spatial divergent thinking, providing evidence for a relation between cortical thickness and visuo-spatial divergent thinking in adolescents and young adults. However, studies including visuo-spatial divergent thinking tasks in the scanner are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e114619
JournalPLoS One (online)
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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