The Neurocognition of Three Engineering Concept Generation Techniques

DS 94: Proceedings of the Design Society: 22nd International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED19)

Year: 2019
Editor: Wartzack, Sandro; Schleich, Benjamin; Gon
Author: Shealy, Tripp (1); Gero, John (2)
Series: ICED
Institution: Virginia Tech
Section: Human behaviour in design and design cognition
DOI number:
ISSN: 2220-4342


Techniques and processes used for concept generation rely on composing new concepts and analysis given situational context. Composition and analysis require distinct neurocognitive function. For instance, jazz composition relies heavily on the right brain, while math relies on the left. Similar to music and math, is concept generation hemisphere dominant? What differences exist when using varying techniques? Twelve graduate engineering students were given three design tasks and instructed to use brainstorming, morphological analysis and TRIZ. A device called fNIRS measured cognitive activation. The results find left hemisphere dominance. More specifically, the left dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC), which is central to spatial working memory and filtering information. Temporal differences do exist. Morphological analysis and TRIZ reinforced the use of the left dlPFC, while brainstorming increased the use of the right dlPFC and medial PFC (mPFC) late during concept generation. The right dlPFC contributes to divergent thinking and mPFC facilitates memory retrieval. One explanation is designers relaxed rule constraints and more deeply searched for associations during brainstorming.

Keywords: Design cognition, Conceptual design, Design theory, Multi- / Cross- / Trans-disciplinary processes


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