Skip to main content

An EEG study of the relationship between design problem statements and cognitive behaviors during conceptual design

  • Longfan Liu (a1), Yan Li (a1), Yan Xiong (a1), Juan Cao (a1) and Ping Yuan (a1)...

In the design process, different problem statements result in different problem-solving strategies. A proper problem statement is the key to effective problem-solving. Based on the characteristics of the product design process, we divided design problem statements into open-ended (OE), decision-making (DM), and constrained (CO) statements and attempted to investigate the influences of different problem statements on designers’ cognitive behaviors from three perspectives, namely divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and mental workload. Then we provided quantification description to these influences based on electroencephalography (EEG) technology. We conducted experiments on 19 participants and used the BrainProduct™ actiChamp-32 to record the EEG data. Results are as follows: (1) The higher task-related α power was found in the temporal and occipital regions in the OE task compared with that in the DM and CO tasks. The OE statement also would help designers get novel ideas by strengthening their divergent thinking. (2) In the DM and CO tasks, there was no significant difference in the impact of the brain region on convergent thinking, but activities in the left hemisphere were stronger than that in the right hemisphere. The DM and CO tasks have better performance in convergent thinking than the OE task. (3) In the CO task, the designer's mental workload is the highest and mainly related to the activation of the centroparietal and occipital regions. These findings help designers understand the design problem-solving process from the perspective of cognitive science and monitor their thinking modes in the design process so as to improve their design performance.

Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: Yan Li, E-mail:
Hide All
Alexiou, K, Zamenopoulos, T, Johnson, JH and Gilbert, SJ (2009) Exploring the neurological basis of design cognition using brain imaging: some preliminary results. Design Studies 30(6), 623647.
Arden, R, Chavez, RS, Grazioplene, R and Jung, RE (2010) Neuroimaging creativity: a psychometric view. Behavioural Brain Research 214(2), 143.
Arthur Cropley (2006) In praise of convergent thinking. Creativity Research Journal 18(3), 391404.
Başar, E, Başar-Eroğlu, C, Karakaş, S and Schürmann, M (1999) Are cognitive processes manifested in event-related gamma, alpha, theta and delta oscillations in the EEG? Neuroscience Letters 259(3), 165168.
Beeman, MJ, Bowden, EM and Gernsbacher, MA (2000) Right and left hemisphere cooperation for drawing predictive and coherence inferences during normal story comprehension[J]. Brain & Language 71(2), 310336.
Borghini, G, Vecchiato, G, Toppi, J, Astolfi, L, Maglione, A, Isabella, R, Caltagirone, C, Kong, W, Wei, D, Zhou, Z, Polidori, L, Vitiello, S and Babiloni, F (2012) Assessment of Mental Fatigue During Car Driving by Using High Resolution EEG Activity and Neurophysiologic Indices. 34th International IEEE EMBC Conference (Vol. 2012, pp. 6442–5). IEEE.
Bowden, EM and Jung-Beeman, M (2003) Aha! Insight experience correlates with solution activation in the right hemisphere. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 10(3), 730737.
Brookhuis, KA and de Waard, D (2010) Monitoring drivers’ mental workload in driving simulators using physiological measures. Accident Analysis & Prevention 42(3), 898903.
Brookings, JB, Wilson, GF and Swain, CR (1996) Psychophysiological responses to changes in workload during simulated air traffic control. Biological Psychology 42(3), 361377.
Chrysikou, EG and Thompson Schill, SL (2011) Dissociable brain states linked to common and creative object use. Human Brain Mapping 32(4), 665675.
Cross, N (2008) Engineering Design Methods: Strategies for Product Design. West Sussex, England: Wiley.
Cross, N (2002) Creative cognition in design: processes of exceptional designers. Conference on Creativity & Cognition (pp. 14–19). ACM.
De Dreu, CK, Baas, M and Nijstad, BA (2008) Hedonic tone and activation level in the mood-creativity link: toward a dual pathway to creativity model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94(5), 739756.
Dietrich, A and Kanso, R (2010) A review of EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies of creativity and insight. Psychological Bulletin 136(5), 822.
Dong, S, Reder, LM, Yuan, Y, Liu, Y and Chen, F (2015) Individual differences in working memory capacity are reflected in different ERP and EEG patterns to task difficulty. 1616, 146–156.
Fink, A and Benedek, M (2014) EEG alpha power and creative ideation. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 44(100), 111.
Fink, A, Grabner, RH, Benedek, M and Neubauer, AC (2006) Divergent thinking training is related to frontal electroencephalogram alpha synchronization. European Journal of Neuroscience 23(8), 22412246.
Fink, A, Grabner, RH, Benedek, M, Reishofer, G, Hauswirth, V, Fally, M and Neubauer, AC (2009a) The creative brain: investigation of brain activity during creative problem solving by means of EEG and fMRI. Human Brain Mapping 30(3), 734748.
Fink, A, Grabner, RH, Gebauer, D, Reishofer, G, Koschutnig, K and Ebner, F (2010) Enhancing creativity by means of cognitive stimulation: evidence from an fMRI study. NeuroImage 52(4), 1687.
Fink, A, Graif, B and Neubauer, AC (2009b) Brain correlates underlying creative thinking: EEG alpha activity in professional vs. novice dancers. NeuroImage 46(3), 854862.
Fink, A, Schwab, D and Papousek, I (2011) Sensitivity of EEG upper alpha activity to cognitive and affective creativity interventions. International Journal of Psychophysiology 82(3), 233239.
Geake, JG and Hansen, PC (2010) Functional neural correlates of fluid and crystallized analogizing. NeuroImage 49(4), 3489.
Gero, JS (1990) Design prototypes: a knowledge representation schema for design. Ai Magazine 11(4), 2636.
Gevins, A and Smith, ME (2006) Electroencephalography (EEG) in Neuroergonomics. Oxford series in human-technology interaction, vol.15.
Goel, V and Vartanian, O (2005) Dissociating the roles of right ventral lateral and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex in generation and maintenance of hypotheses in set-shift problems. Cerebral Cortex 15(8), 11701177.
Gola, M, Magnuski, M, Szumska, I and Wróbel, A (2013) EEG beta band activity is related to attention and attentional deficits in the visual performance of elderly participants. International Journal of Psychophysiology 89(3), 334341.
Grabner, RH, Fink, A and Neubauer, AC (2007) Brain correlates of self-rated originality of ideas: evidence from event-related power and phase-locking changes in the EEG. Behavioral Neuroscience 121(1), 224230.
Green, AE, Kraemer, DJ, Fugelsang, JA, Gray, JR and Dunbar, KN (2010) Connecting long distance: semantic distance in analogical reasoning modulates frontopolar cortex activity. Cerebral Cortex 20(1), 7076.
Guilford, JP (1967) The Nature of Human Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Jauk, E, Benedek, M and Neubauer, AC (2012) Tackling creativity at its roots: evidence for different patterns of EEG alpha activity related to convergent and divergent modes of task processing. International Journal of Psychophysiology 84(2), 219225.
Jin, Y and Chusilp, P (2006) Study of mental iteration in different design situations. Design Studies 27(1), 2555.
Johnson, MK, Blanco, JA, Gentili, RJ and Jaquess, KJ (2015) Probe-independent EEG assessment of mental workload in pilots. In International IEEE/EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering (pp. 581–584). IEEE.
Kijkuit, B and Ende, JVD (2007) The organizational life of an idea: integrating social network, creativity and decision-making perspectives. Journal of Management Studies 44(6), 863882.
Klimesch, W (2012) Alpha-band oscillations, attention, and controlled access to stored information. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16(12), 606617.
Kotovsky, K, Hayes, JR and Simon, HA (1985) Why are some problems hard? Evidence from tower of Hanoi ☆. Cognitive Psychology 17(2), 248294.
Lal, SK and Craig, A (2002) Driver fatigue: electroencephalography and psychological assessment. Psychophysiology 39(3), 313321.
Lee, CS and Therriault, DJ (2013) The cognitive underpinnings of creative thought: a latent variable analysis exploring the roles of intelligence and working memory in three creative thinking processes. Intelligence 41(5), 306320.
Liu, YC, Chakrabarti, A and Bligh, T (2003) Towards an “ideal” approach for concept generation. Design Studies 24(4), 341355.
Martindale, C (1999) Biological bases of creativity. In Sternberg, R (ed.). Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge: University Press, pp. 137152.
Martindale, C and Hines, D (1975) Creativity and cortical activation during creative, intellectual and EEG feedback tasks. Biological Psychology 3(2), 91100.
Metusalem, R, Kutas, M, Urbach, TP and Elman, JL (2016) Hemispheric asymmetry in event knowledge activation during incremental language comprehension: a visual half-field ERP study. Neuropsychologia 84, 252271.
Mölle, M, Marshall, L, Lutzenberger, W, Pietrowsky, R, Fehm, HL and Born, J (1996) Enhanced dynamic complexity in the human EEG during creative thinking. Neuroscience Letters 208(1), 6164.
Mölle, M, Marshall, L, Wolf, B, Fehm, HL and Born, J (2010) EEG complexity and performance measures of creative thinking. Psychophysiology 36(1), 95104.
Nguyen, TA and Zeng, Y (2014) A physiological study of relationship between designer's mental effort and mental stress during conceptual design. Computer-Aided Design 54, 318.
Megalakaki, O, Tijus, C, Baiche, R and Poitrenaud, S (2012) The effect of semantics on problem solving is to reduce relational complexity. Thinking & Reasoning 18(2), 159182.
Pfurtscheller, G and Fh, LDS (1999) Event-related EEG/MEG synchronization and desynchronization: basic principles. Clinical Neurophysiology 110(11), 1842.
Razoumnikova, OM (2000) Functional organization of different brain areas during convergent and divergent thinking: an EEG investigation. Cognitive Brain Research 10(1–2), 1118.
Razumnikova, OM (2007a) Creativity related cortex activity in the remote associates task. Brain Research Bulletin 73(1–3), 96102.
Razumnikova, OM (2007b) The functional significance of α 2, frequency range for convergent and divergent verbal thinking. Human Physiology 33(2), 146156.
Razumnikova, OM, Volf, NV and Tarasova, IV (2009) Strategy and results: sex differences in electrographic correlates of verbal and figural creativity. Human Physiology 35(3), 285294.
Redish, AD and Mizumori, SJY (2015) Memory and decision making. Neurobiology of Learning & Memory 117(4), 13.
Ryd, N (2004) The design brief as carrier of client information during the construction process. Design Studies 25(3), 231249.
Ryu, K and Myung, R (2005) Evaluation of mental workload with a combined measure based on physiological indices during a dual task of tracking and mental arithmetic. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 35(11), 9911009.
Sauseng, P, Griesmayr, B, Freunberger, R and Klimesch, W (2010) Control mechanisms in working memory: a possible function of EEG theta oscillations. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 34(7), 10151022.
Schwab, D, Benedek, M, Papousek, I, Weiss, EM and Fink, A (2014) The time-course of EEG alpha power changes in creative ideation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8(8), 310.
Silk, EM, Daly, S, Jablokow, K, Yilmaz, S and Rosenberg, M (2014) The Design Problem Framework: Using Adaption-Innovation Theory to Construct Design Problem Statements. In ASEE Conference and Exposition.
Spradlin, D (2012) Are you solving the right problem? Asking the right questions is crucial. Harvard Business Review 90(9), 84101.
Tanaka, M, Shigihara, Y, Ishii, A, Funakura, M, Kanai, E and Watanabe, Y (2012) Effect of mental fatigue on the central nervous system: an electroencephalography study. Behavioral and Brain Functions 8(1), 48.
Trejo, LJ, Knuth, K, Prado, R, Rosipal, R, Kubitz, K, Kochavi, R and Zhang, Y (2007) EEG-based estimation of mental fatigue: convergent evidence for a three-state model. In International Conference on Foundations of Augmented Cognition (pp. 201–211). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Trejo, LJ, Kubitz, K, Rosipal, R, Kochavi, RL and Montgomery, LD (2015) EEG-based estimation and classification of mental fatigue. Psychology 6(6), 572589.
Uzzi, B, Mukherjee, S, Stringer, M and Jones, B (2013) Atypical combinations and scientific impact. Science 342(6157), 468472.
Wang, T, Zhang, Q, Li, H, Qiu, J, Tu, S and Yu, C (2009) The time course of Chinese riddles solving: evidence from an ERP study. Behavioural Brain Research 199(2), 278282.
Watson, CE and Chatterjee, A (2012) A bilateral frontoparietal network underlies visuospatial analogical reasoning. Neuroimage 59(3), 28312838.
Wickens, CD (2008) Multiple resources and mental workload. Human Factors 50, 449455.
Yilmaz, S and Gonzalez, CMSR (2010) Cognitive heuristics in design: instructional strategies to increase creativity in idea generation. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design Analysis & Manufacturing 24(3), 335355.
Zabelina, D, Saporta, A and Beeman, M (2016) Flexible or leaky attention in creative people? Distinct patterns of attention for different types of creative thinking. Memory & Cognition 44(3), 488498.
Zhang, J (1997) The nature of external representations in problem solving. Cognitive Science 21(2), 179217.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0890-0604
  • EISSN: 1469-1760
  • URL: /core/journals/ai-edam
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 12 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 66 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 30th May 2018 - 24th June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.