[JPL] Creativity Explored, by Mapping Jazz Musicians' Brains
drjazz at drjazz.com
Thu Feb 28 13:31:45 EST 2008
Creativity Explored, by Mapping Jazz Musicians' Brains
Ever wondered what happens inside jazz musicians' (or any musicians')
heads when their eyes get glazed, and they begin to lose themselves in
the music they're improvising?
A team of researchers studying the creative process now have a partial
answer to that question.
Using a group of trained jazz musicians who were also patient enough to
agree to practice their art inside an functioning MRI machine, they've
watched exactly what happens inside the brain when an artist begins to
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that large areas of the brain
responsible for monitoring ones own behavior are all but shut down,
while another small region associated with organizing "self-initiated"
thoughts and behavior is highly active.
As any musician will quickly guess, this wasn't an easy study to set up.
The subjects were told to lie on their backs in the MRI machine, with a
keyboard on their laps, visible in a mirror above them.
They were given a variety of tasks to do, including playing a simple C
major scale, improvising within that single scale, playing a tune from
memory, and improvising along with a pre-recorded jazz quartet playing
In both improvisational tasks, whether relatively simple or complex,
large parts of the prefrontal cortex (and most specifically the
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) shut down almost completely. Researchers
say this area of the brain is responsible for monitoring one's own
performance, and can be associated with inhibitions.
By contrast, the medial prefrontal cortex, which researchers have seen
is active when a person describes a past event, or when telling a story,
was very active. They say this pattern is not usual, but is also
associated with dream states.
Areas of the brain associated with sensory activity, including those
linked with touch, hearing and vision, also were strongly active during
the improvisational tasks, although there was little difference in what
the subjects were actually seeing, feeling or hearing during those
moments as compared to the rote tasks.
Researchers say that this brain pattern is likely replicated in other
creative tasks as well, and that the pattern seen are likely to be
indicators of hard-to-identify creative thought.
"One important thing we can conclude from this study is that there is no
single creative area of the brain---no focal activation of a single
area," said Allen Braun, chief of the language division of the National
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), in a
study. The NIDCD funded the study. "Rather, when you move from either of
the control tasks to improvisation, you see a strong and consistent
pattern of activity throughout the brain that enables creativity."
The study was published in the PLoS ONE journal
and is available to read in its entirety online.
Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of
In Jazz Improv, Large Portion of Brain's Prefrontal Region 'Takes Five'
to Let Creativity Flow
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders]
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
More information about the jazzproglist