skip to main content


Title: Neurocognition of New Ideas During Engineering Design
Abstract

The research presented in this paper investigated the changes that occur in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when new ideas are introduced during engineering design. Undergraduate and graduate engineering students (n = 25) were outfitted with a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) headband. Students were asked to design a personal entertainment system while thinking aloud. New ideas were timestamped with the fNIRS data across 48 channels grouped into eight regions within the PFC. The data were preprocessed using temporal derivative distribution repair motion correction, finite impulse response bandpass filter, and the modified beer-lambert law to convert optical density into hemoglobin concentration. Baseline neurocognitive activation and physiological noise were removed. The study found a significant decrease in oxygenated hemoglobin in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a subregion of the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex when new ideas were introduced during design. This finding begins to provide a neurocognitive signature of what a new idea looks like as it arises in the brain. This could be used to develop tools and techniques to inhibit this brain region or use this insight to predict when designers will experience a new idea based on their neural activation.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1929892
NSF-PAR ID:
10488653
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Publisher / Repository:
American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ASME 2023 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
Volume:
2
Format(s):
Medium: X
Location:
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The research presented in this paper explores features of temporal design neurocognition by comparing regions of activation in the brain during concept generation. A total of 27 engineering graduate students used brainstorming, morphological analysis, and TRIZ to generate concepts to design problems. Students' brain activation in their prefrontal cortex (PFC) was measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Temporal activations were compared between techniques. When using brainstorming and morphological analysis, highly activated regions are consistently situated in the medial and right part of the PFC over time. For both techniques, the temporal neuro-physiological patterns are similar. Cognitive functions associated to the medial and right part of the PFC suggest an association with divergent thinking and adaptive decision making. In contrast, highly activated regions over time when using TRIZ appear in the medial or the left part of the prefrontal cortex, usually associated with goal directed planning. 
    more » « less
  2. Neuroimaging provides a relatively new approach for advancing engineering education by exploring changes in neurocognition from educational interventions. The purpose of the research described in this paper is to present the results of a preliminary study that measured students’ neurocognition while concept mapping. Engineering design is an iterative process of exploring both the problem and solution spaces. To aid students in exploring these spaces, half of the 66 engineering students who participated in the study were first asked to develop a concept map and then construct a design problem statement. The concept mapping activity significantly reduced neurocognitive activation in the students’ left prefrontal cortex (PFC) compared to students who did not receive this intervention when constructing their problem statement. The sub-region in the left PFC that elicited less activation is generally associated with analytical judgment and goal-directed planning. The group of students who completed the concept mapping activity had greater focused neurocognitive activation in their right PFC. The right PFC is often associated with divergent thinking and ill-structured representation. Patterns of functional connectivity across students’ PFC also differed between the groups. The concept mapping activity reduced the network density in students’ PFC. Lower network density is one measure of lower cognitive effort. These results provide new insight into the neurocognition of engineering students when designing and how educational interventions can change engineering students’ neurocognition. A better understanding of how interventions like concept mapping shape students’ neurocognition, and how this relates to learning, can lay the groundwork for novel advances in engineering education that support new tools and pedagogy for engineering design. 
    more » « less
  3. Ideation is a key phase in engineering design and brainstorming is an established method for ideation. A limitation of the brainstorming process is idea production tends to peak at the beginning and quickly decreases with time. In this exploratory study, we tested an innovative technique to sustain ideation by providing designers feedback about their neurocognition. We used a neuroimaging technique (fNIRS) to monitor students’ neurocognitive activations during a brainstorming task. Half received real-time feedback about their neurocognitive activation in their prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with working memory and cognitive flexibility. Students who received the neurocognitive feedback maintained higher cortical activation and longer sustained peak activation. Students receiving the neurocognitive feedback demonstrated a higher percentage of right-hemispheric dominance, a region associated to creative processing, compared to the students without neurocognitive feedback. The increase in right-hemispheric dominance positively correlated with an increase in the number of solutions during concept generation and a higher design idea fluency. These results demonstrate the prospective use of neurocognitive feedback to sustain the cognitive activations necessary for idea generation during brainstorming. Future research should explore the effect of neurocognitive feedback with a more robust sample of designers and compare neurocognitive feedback with other types of interventions to sustain ideation. 
    more » « less
  4. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) method and toolkit provides a well-structured approach to support engineering design with pre-defined steps: interpret and define the problem, search for standard engineering parameters, search for inventive principles to adapt, and generate final solutions. The research presented in this paper explores the neurocognitive differences of each of these steps. We measured the neuro-cognitive activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of 30 engineering students. Neuro-cognitive activation was recorded while students completed an engineering design task. The results show a varying activation pattern. When interpreting and defining the problem, higher activation is found in the left PFC, generally associated with goal directed planning and making analytical judgement when interpreting and defining the problem. Neuro-cognitive activation shifts to the right PFC during the search process, a region usually involved in exploring the problem space. During solution generation more activation occurs in the medial PFC, a region generally related to making associations. The findings offer new insights and evidence explaining the dynamic neuro-cognitive activations when using TRIZ in engineering design. 
    more » « less
  5. Gero, J.S. (Ed.)
    To explore the connection between brain and behavior in engineering design, this study measured the change in neurocognition of engineering students while they developed concept maps. Concept maps help designers organize complex ideas by illustrating components and relationships. Student concept maps were graded using a pre-established scoring method and compared to their neurocognitive activation. Results show significant correlations between performance and neurocognition. Concept map scores were positively correlated with activation in students’ prefrontal cortex. A prominent sub-region was the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is generally associated with divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility. Student scores were negatively correlated with measures of brain network density. The findings suggest a possible neurocognitive mechanism for better performance. More research is needed to connect brain activation to the cognitive activities that occur when designing but these results provide new evidence for the brain functions that support the development of complex ideas during design. 
    more » « less