This paper presents the results of an experimental study comparing cortical activation in the brain when generating solutions using brainstorming, morphological analysis, and TRIZ. Twelve engineering students were given the same three design tasks, respectively, using the three solution generation techniques. Students generated solutions while change in oxygenated blood along the prefrontal cortex (PFC) was measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. The results show that generating solutions using brainstorming, morphological analysis, and TRIZ leads to differences in cortical activation, specifically along the region of the brain associated with spatial working memory, cognitive flexibility, and abstract reasoning, called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (left DLPFC). Brainstorming evokes a high average blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response in the left DLPFC early during the solution generation process but this high response is not sustained. In comparison, morphological analysis and TRIZ evoke multiple high average BOLD responses across the solution generation process. Not only was the high average BOLD response sustained but the density of network coordination among brain regions across the PFC was greater for morphological analysis and TRIZ. Higher density is a proxy for higher cognitive effort. The brain regions most central to coordination also varied. During brainstorming the right hemisphere, in a region associated with memory encoding (right PFC), was most activated. During morphological analysis, the left hemisphere, the left DLPFC was most activated. During TRIZ, both the middle and left hemisphere included regions of high activation. These results indicate neuro-cognitive differences of activation patterns, cognitive effort over time, and brain regions central for coordination when using these three concept generation techniques. Future research can begin to explore neuro-cognitive differences as a result of these techniques over multiple uses and the effects of design education.

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