Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 228, Issue 4, pp 437–443 | Cite as

Brain mechanisms of valuable scientific problem finding inspired by heuristic knowledge

  • Tong Dandan
  • Li Wenfu
  • Dai Tianen
  • Howard C. Nusbaum
  • Qiu JiangEmail author
  • Zhang QinglinEmail author
Research Article


Heuristics through the application of heuristic knowledge to the creation of imitation devices may be one of the most common processes in scientific innovation. In particular, heuristics suggests that innovation includes the automatic activation of heuristic knowledge and formation of novel associations between heuristic knowledge and problem situations. In this study, 76 scientific innovation problem situations were selected as materials. Among these, 36 contain related heuristic knowledge and 40 have no such information. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging, the learning–testing paradigm was used to explore the brain mechanisms of scientific problem finding inspired by heuristic knowledge. Participants were asked to find a problem on the basis of a given innovation problem situation. Two scenarios were presented: finding scientific problems with related heuristic knowledge and finding conventional problems without related heuristic knowledge. The authors assumed that the regions in the brain significantly activated by the finding scientific problems with related heuristic knowledge condition compared with the finding normal problems without related heuristic knowledge condition are relevant to the brain mechanisms of scientific problem finding inspired by heuristic knowledge. The first scenario more significantly activated the left precuneus and left angular gyrus than did the second scenario. These findings suggest that the precuneus is relevant to the successful storage and retrieval of heuristic knowledge and that the left angular gyrus is involved in the formation of novel associations between heuristic knowledge and problem situations for finding scientific problems.


Scientific problem finding Heuristic knowledge Event-related fMRI Precuneus Angular gyrus 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31170983; 31271087), the Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University (2011) by the Ministry of Education, and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (SWU1209101). The authors thank the anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.


  1. Ansari D (2008) Effects of development and enculturation on number representation in the brain. Nat Rev Neurosci 9:278–291PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Catani M (2005) The rises and falls of disconnection syndromes. Brain 128:2224–2239PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chand I, Runco MA (1993) Problem finding skills as components in the creative process. Pers Individ Differ 14:155–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cohen L, Martinaud O, Lemer C et al (2003) Visual word recognition in the left and right hemispheres: anatomical and functional correlates of peripheral alexias. Cereb Cortex 13:1313–1333PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dehaene S, Spelke E, Pinel P, Stanescu R, Tsivkin S (1999) Sources of mathematical thinking: behavioral and brain-imaging evidence. Science 284:970–974PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dehaene S, Piazza M, Pinel P, Cohen L (2003) Three parietal circuits for number processing. Cogn Neuropsychol 20:487–506PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delazer M, Ischebeck A, Domahs F et al (2005) Learning by strategies and learning by drill—evidence from an fMRI study. Neuroimage 25:838–849PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dietrich A, Kanso R (2010) A review of EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies of creativity and insight. Psychol Bull 136:822PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dörfel D, Werner A, Schaefer M, Von Kummer R, Karl A (2009) Distinct brain networks in recognition memory share a defined region in the precuneus. Eur J Neurosci 30:1947–1959PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fink A, Grabner RH, Benedek M, Neubauer AC (2006) Divergent thinking training is related to frontal electroencephalogram alpha synchronization. Eur J Neurosci 23:2241–2246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fink A, Benedek M, Grabner RH, Staudt B, Neubauer AC (2007) Creativity meets neuroscience: experimental tasks for the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. Methods 42:68–76PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fink A, Grabner RH, Gebauer D, Reishofer G, Koschutnig K, Ebner F (2010) Enhancing creativity by means of cognitive stimulation: evidence from an fMRI study. Neuroimage 52:1687–1695PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fink A, Koschutnig K, Benedek M, Reishofer G, Ischebeck A, Weiss EM, Ebner F (2012) Stimulating creativity via the exposure to other people’s ideas. Hum Brain Mapp 33:2603–2610PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Forman SD, Cohen JD, Fitzgerald M, Eddy WF, Mintun MA, Noll DC (1995) Improved assessment of significant activation in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): use of a cluster-size threshold. Magn Reson Med 33:636–647PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Freeman JB, Rule NO, Adams RB Jr, Ambady N (2009) Culture shapes a mesolimbic response to signals of dominance and subordination that associates with behavior. Neuroimage 47:353–359PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Freeman JB, Schiller D, Rule NO, Ambady N (2010) The neural origins of superficial and individuated judgments about ingroup and outgroup members. Hum Brain Mapp 31:150–159PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Goebel R, Esposito F, Formisano E (2006) Analysis of functional image analysis contest (FIAC) data with brainvoyager QX: from single-subject to cortically aligned group general linear model analysis and self-organizing group independent component analysis. Hum Brain Mapp 27:392–401PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grabner RH, Ansari D, Koschutnig K, Reishofer G, Ebner F, Neuper C (2009) To retrieve or to calculate? Left angular gyrus mediates the retrieval of arithmetic facts during problem solving. Neuropsychologia 47:604–608PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harasty J, Halliday G, Kril J, Code C (1999) Specific temporoparietal gyral atrophy reflects the pattern of language dissolution in Alzheimer’s disease. Brain 122:675–686PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hu W, Shi QZ, Han Q, Wang X, Adey P (2010) Creative scientific problem finding and its developmental trend. Creativity Res J 22:46–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jay E, Perkins D (1997) Creativity’s compass: a review of problem finding. Creativity Res Handb 1:257–293Google Scholar
  22. Jung-Beeman M, Bowden EM, Haberman J et al (2004) Neural activity when people solve verbal problems with insight. PLoS Biol 2:e97PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kriegeskorte N, Goebel R (2001) An efficient algorithm for topologically correct segmentation of the cortical sheet in anatomical MR volumes. NeuroImage 14:329–346PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lundstrom BN, Ingvar M, Petersson KM (2005) The role of precuneus and left inferior frontal cortex during source memory episodic retrieval. Neuroimage 27:824–834PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Luo J, Niki K (2003) Function of hippocampus in “insight” of problem solving. Hippocampus 13:316–323PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Luo J, Niki K, Phillips S (2004) Neural correlates of the ‘Aha! reaction’. NeuroReport 15:2013–2017PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Luo J, Li W, Qiu J, Wei D, Liu Y, Zhang Q (2013) Neural basis of scientific innovation induced by heuristic prototype. PLoS ONE 8:e49231PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nyberg L, Persson J, Habib R, Tulving E, McIntosh AR, Cabeza R, Houle S (2000) Large scale neurocognitive networks underlying episodic memory. J Cogn Neurosci 12:163–173PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Qiu J, Li H, Jou J et al (2010) Neural correlates of the “Aha” experiences: evidence from an fMRI study of insight problem solving. Cortex 46:397–403PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Takeuchi H, Taki Y, Sassa Y, Hashizume H, Sekiguchi A, Fukushima A, Kawashima R (2010) Regional gray matter volume of dopaminergic system associate with creativity: evidence from voxel-based morphometry. Neuroimage 51:578–585PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Takeuchi H, Taki Y, Hashizume H, Sassa Y, Nagase T, Nouchi R, Kawashima R (2011a) Cerebral blood flow during rest associates with general intelligence and creativity. PLoS ONE 6:e25532PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Takeuchi H, Taki Y, Hashizume H, Sassa Y, Nagase T, Nouchi R, Kawashima R (2011b) Failing to deactivate: the association between brain activity during a working memory task and creativity. Neuroimage 55:681–687PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Takeuchi H, Taki Y, Hashizume H, Sassa Y, Nagase T, Nouchi R, Kawashima R (2012) The association between resting functional connectivity and creativity. Cereb Cortex 22:2921–2929PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tomasi D, Volkow ND (2011) Association between functional connectivity hubs and brain networks. Cereb Cortex 21:2003–2013PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tulving E (2002) Episodic memory: from mind to brain. Annu Rev Psychol 53:1–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wang T, Zhang Q, Li H, Qiu J, Tu S, Yu C (2009) The time course of Chinese riddles solving: evidence from an ERP study. Behav Brain Res 199:278–282PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Woodward TS, Meier B, Cairo TA, Ngan ET (2006) Temporo-prefrontal coordination increases when semantic associations are strongly encoded. Neuropsychologia 44:2308–2314PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Cognition and PersonalitySouthwest University, Ministry of EducationChongqingChina
  2. 2.School of PsychologySouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations