This is Your Brain When it is Creative

The results of a fascinating study of jazz musicians are giving scientists a clearer picture of where creativity comes from in your brain.

How, precisely did they do this?  Dr. Charles Limb decided it would be good to compare the brain of a jazz musician when he (or she) was alternately playing by memory and going off on an improvised riff.  The only problem was, how, exactly, to accomplish it.  The usual procedure is to put a person inside a MRI machine and measure changes in oxygen that signify various different parts of the brain being utilized.

However, it is just the wee-est bit difficult to fit a jazz musician and his instrument inside a MRI machine.

So what they did was have a special metal-less keyboard designed and then had jazz pianists play both memorized tunes and riffs while inside the MRI.

The results?  Creativity in the form of jazz improv utilized the same parts of the brain as dreaming.  First of all inhibition switched off and then self expression switched on.  The musicians also showed heightened sensory awareness, with areas associated with touch, hearing and sight lighting up.

How cool is that?  That there are actually places in the brain where our creativity comes from just fascinates me.

Dr. Limb cautions that the brain of an artist or writer might well function differently from a musician and he hopes to test artists and writers next.  Um, Dr. Limb?  I’ll volunteer.  Anything to make the process of sitting down to write a little easier.

Apparently what this research will be most useful for is research into brain damage and diseases such as Parkinson’s (which a very close friend of mine just got diagnosed with). 

But the lesson seems clear enough to me: all we have to do to be creative is let go of our inhibitions and let self expression fly.  I’ve been in that flow before.  Its the best thing ever, so much so that most of my life is spent in an effort to return to that state.

I got so carried away I almost forgot the link.  You can read the story here.

8 Replies to “This is Your Brain When it is Creative”

  1. Wow, this sounds so interesting! I wonder what would happen if they tested me? Come to think of it, better not – I might not like what they discover!

  2. Ah, c’mon, they’d find it full of all kinds of interesting stuff!

    I do find the whole idea that it is looking possible to identify the place in the brain that is responsible for creativity fascinating.

  3. Lin from CCS sent me scurrying over to read your post. It is indeed interesting. I live to be in the flow. Once you’ve experienced it you just have to keep on finding it. As you say,it is fascinating to learn more about specific places in the brain where creativity comes from.

  4. I knew jazz could be inspiring and love to dance while listening, but this story was even more amazing – thanks for sharing!

    Wishing you a great end to your week 🙂

  5. A very interesting post. Being an ex-musician myself, who just can’t help to improvise, whatever/wherever I am playing (LOL), I can quite understand the likeness to dreaming – because I do sink into an altered state of consciousness – excellent for stress management btw.

    Also once, many years ago, I dreamt I was a composer and had composed this incredible, indescribable piece of music, but unfortunately seconds after awakening, I could not get it back into my waking consciousness. It was like a spiritual experience that just drifted back into the ether, almost as if I was not supposed to have heard it with my earthly brain.

  6. Renny and Robyn, thanks for stopping by.

    Um, Derek? Since I know for a fact that you still play regularly I think you do not qualify as an “ex” musician.

    I love your dream about the fabulous piece of music–maybe it is the composition to which you are supposed to aspire. I had a dream about an ex-boyfriend once and it was so vivid I wrote a whole short story about it.

    I’ve often read that remembering and honoring dreams is good for creativity and I guess this study starts to tell us why!

    1. I am fascinated with the recent brain research, too. It is simply amazing how much we’ve learned in just the past few years. Thanks for coming by!

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