Volumetric evidence of the mediating role of mental imagery in episodic memory effect on divergent thinking

  • Lijie Zhang
  • Lei Qiao
  • Xianwei Che
  • Mengsi Xu
  • Qunlin Chen
  • Wenjing Yang
  • Jiang QiuEmail author
  • Dong YangEmail author


Functional imaging studies have indicated that divergent thinking involves the cooperation between episodic memory and mental imagery. Moreover, divergent thinking was also demonstrated to rely on inhibition to suppress inappropriate information. Here, a mediation analysis was used to investigate the comprehensive associations between volumetric differences in regions of inhibition, episodic memory, and mental imagery, and performance differences in divergent thinking in 125 healthy individuals. Regions of interest were selected using the Neurosynth meta-analytical database. We found that volumetric differences in the left calcarine (a region involved in mental imagery) mediated the association between volumetric differences in the left parahippocampal (a region involved in episodic memory) and task performance in divergent thinking. Further analysis showed that volumetric differences in the right insula/supramarginal regions (regions involved in inhibition) were associated with divergent thinking through their impact on the volumetric differences in the left parahippocampal and left calcarine. Our results provided volumetric evidence of the mediating role of mental imagery in episodic memory effect on divergent thinking, as well as the promotion of inhibition in these relationships.


Divergent thinking Episodic memory Mental imagery Inhibition 


Author Contributions

L.Z., L.Q., Q.C., W.Y., J.Q., and D. Y. designed the experiments and analysed the data. L. Z. drafted the manuscript, and L.Z., L.Q., W.C., Q.C., and M.X. provided critical revisions. L. Q. prepared the figures.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71472156;31271087;31571137), the National Outstanding young people plan, the Program for the Top Young Talents by Chongqing, the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (SWU1509383), and the Natural Science Foundation of Chongqing (cstc2015jcyjA10106).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in our studies which involved human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution and/or the national research committee. All procedures were also in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individuals who participated in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lijie Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lei Qiao
    • 3
  • Xianwei Che
    • 4
  • Mengsi Xu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Qunlin Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wenjing Yang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jiang Qiu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Dong Yang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.School of PsychologySouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of EducationSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  3. 3.School of Psychology and SocialShenzhen UniversityShenzhenChina
  4. 4.Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc), The Alfred and Central Clinical SchoolMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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