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Creativity, Comprehension, Conversation and the Hippocampal Region: New Data and Theory

Donald G. MacKay Rutherford Goldstein

*Corresponding author: Donald G. MacKay mackay@ucla.edu


This article examines conceptual frameworks for explaining relations between creativity and the hippocampal region (HR) and reports two new experimental studies. In both studies, seventeen people participated in extensive face-to-face interviews: sixteen normal individuals and H.M., an amnesic with cerebellar and HR damage but virtually no neocortical damage. The results indicated that HR damage impairs aspects of everyday language comprehension and production that require creativity—defined as the ability to form new internal representations that satisfy relevant constraints for being useful or valuable in the real world. Study 1 demonstrated deficits in H.M.’s comprehension of creative but not routine aspects of the interviews—extending to the real world twelve prior demonstrations that H.M. understands routine but not novel aspects of experimentally constructed sentences, deficits that reflected his HR damage, but not his cerebellar damage, his explicit or declarative memory problems, inability to comprehend or recall the instructions, forgetting, poor visual acuity, motoric slowing, time pressure, deficits in visual scanning or attentional allocation, lack of motivation, and excessive memory load in the tasks. Study 2 demonstrated similar deficits in H.M.’s ability to produce creative but not routine aspects of conversational discourse, extending findings in five prior sentence production experiments to
real-world creativity. Both types of deficits impaired communication in the interviews, results that support some theories of creativity and the HR but not others.

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