Human imagination is bounded. As situations become more distant in time, place, perspective, and likelihood, they also become more difficult to simulate. What underlies the ability to successfully engage in distal simulations? Here we examine the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying distal simulation by studying individuals known for transcending these limits: creative experts. First, 2 behavioral studies establish that creative experts indeed succeed at engaging in vivid distal simulations, compared to less creative individuals. Performance on a traditional measure of creativity (Study 1) and real-world success in creative pursuits (Study 2) corresponded with more vivid distal simulations across temporal, spatial, social, and hypothetical domains. Study 3 used neuroimaging to identify the neural mechanism supporting creative experts' simulation success. Whereas creative experts and controls recruit the same neural mechanism (the medial prefrontal cortex) while simulating common or proximal events, creative experts preferentially engage a distinct neural mechanism (the dorsomedial subsystem of the default network) while simulating distal events. Moreover, creative experts showed greater functional connectivity within this network at rest, suggesting they may be prepared to engage this mechanism, by default. Studying creative expertise provides new insight into the ability to mentally transcend the here and now.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science
- Psychological distance