Unconscious processing modulates creative problem solving: evidence from an electrophysiological study.Conscious Cogn 2014; 26:64-73CC
Previous behavioral studies have identified the significant role of subliminal cues in creative problem solving. However, neural mechanisms of such unconscious processing remain poorly understood. Here we utilized an event-related potential (ERP) approach and sandwich mask technique to investigate cerebral activities underlying the unconscious processing of cues in creative problem solving. College students were instructed to solve divergent problems under three different conditions (conscious cue, unconscious cue and no-cue conditions). Our data showed that creative problem solving can benefit from unconscious cues, although not as much as from conscious cues. More importantly, we found that there are crucial ERP components associated with unconscious processing of cues in solving divergent problems. Similar to the processing of conscious cues, processing unconscious cues in problem solving involves the semantic activation of unconscious cues (N280-340) in the right inferior parietal lobule (BA 40), new association formation (P350-450) in the right parahippocampal gyrus (BA 36), and mental representation transformation (P500-760) in the right superior temporal gyrus (BA 22). The present results suggest that creative problem solving can be modulated by unconscious processing of enlightening information that is weakly diffused in the semantic network beyond our conscious awareness.