Creative Aging: Functional Neural Networks Associated with Creativity in Aging
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Creativity is the ability to generate novel associations and has been linked to better problem-solving and real-world functional abilities. Creative ability has been implicated in successful aging including psychological, social, spiritual and, cognitive functioning (Duhamel, 2016). Creative thinking is associated with connectivity between default and executive control regions in the young brain. In aging, this pattern of functional coupling is observed across multiple tasks, and associated with better performance on tasks that closely mirror real-world functioning, where prior knowledge is congruent with task goals. This has been described as the Default-Executive Coupling Hypothesis of Aging (Turner & Spreng, 2015), and proposes that this changing neural architecture reflects greater reliance on internally stored representations and knowledge. This shift towards greater semanticized cognition in later stages of life reflected in changes in network connectivity and interactivity may also support creative cognition into older adulthood. However, age-differences in brain networks of creativity have yet to be directly investigated. This dissertation explored age-related functional connectivity patterns of creative thought among default and executive control networks using task-based and intrinsic functional connectivity methods. In study one, old and young participants completed a divergent thinking task measuring creative thinking, while undergoing fMRI scanning. Consistent with predictions, analyses demonstrated that default and executive networks are more functionally coupled during creative thinking for older than younger adults. Critically, despite similar performance on an in-scanner creativity task, increased global network efficiency of default-executive nodes was associated with creative ability for older adults only. These findings provide novel evidence of default-executive coupling as a putative mechanism supporting creative ability in later life. Next, we investigated whether this pattern of default-executive coupling supporting creative thinking is reflected in the intrinsic architecture of the aging brain. Younger and older adults underwent fMRI scanning at rest and completed a divergent thinking task to assess creative ability outside the scanner. Results indicated that both younger and older adults have equivalent performance on offline measures of creativity. However, relative to the younger adults, older adults showed a pattern of greater between-network intrinsic functional connectivity among default-executive networks associated with creative ability. Results from both study one and two provide evidence for a greater reliance of the aging brain on default-executive coupling to support creative cognition. In study three, we investigated whether creativity is associated with fluid or crystallized intelligence in young and older adults, as further, albeit preliminary, evidence in support of a semanticization of cognition hypothesis of creative cognition in later life. Results showed that fluid intelligence was reliable predictor of creativity across both young and older adults. Contrary to the semanticization hypothesis, crystallized intelligence was not a significant predictor of creativity in older adults. However, this may reflect the limited sample size for an individual difference analysis and the narrow assessment of crystalized knowledge. Taken together, the dissertation findings presented here extend previous research in aging and creative thinking by demonstrating that creativity is preserved in normal aging, yet relies on a different functional network architecture than has been reported in young. These functional brain changes may reflect a cognitive shift towards greater reliance on semantic knowledge that has important implications for understanding and predicting functional capacity in later life. Future investigations of creative ability in aging may provide a novel lens through which we can better understand the implications of creative thought in aspects of successful aging including maintenance of an agentic self-view, independence and a positive personal self-view that is key for mental health (Duhamel, 2016; Runco, 2004).