The neuroscience of creativity

January 11, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More

How is it that some of us are so highly creative? Doctor (and musician) Charles Lamb is a scientist who studies musical improvisation using fMRI scans, and he has developed theories that apply to all forms of creativity. The subjects were asked to play written music and then to improvise using a mini-keyboard while they were jammed into an fMRI scanners. The brain works very differently when it improvises. It appears that an area of the brain involved in self-monitoring turning off and an area that is autobiographical/expressive turning on. His hypothesis is that the latter area needs to shut off so that we are not inhibited and we are not afraid to make mistakes.

Lamb found that when jazz musicians were “trading fours” taking turns improvising four-bar sections, their language areas of the brain lit up (11:30).

He also did an experiment regarding free-style hip hop rap music by putting a rapper into an fMRI machine, performing a pre-written tune and a free-style session. When free-style is being done, visual and motor coordination areas light up.

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Category: music, Neuroscience

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Ben says:

    This reminds me of how I sometimes freeze/fail in certain situations (for example: meeting new people or beginning a physical task such missing the first few basketball shots until I'm warmed up). It's like I am analyzing myself too much. But then once I start talking (or moving) the "flow" sets in and I do just fine and in some cases I surprise myself how well I perform once I concentrate. I can juggle a soccer ball 100+ times. Practice seems to be the (most) important variable because it helps creates a positive feedback loop — as you gain confidence in the desired skill you perform better.

  2. Ben says:

    I like performing little experiments on my brain/body. I've noticed that fear of consequences (or just general uncertainty) is a factor in how well I perform on small tasks.

    For example I've noticed that swimming in water which is 15 feet deep is much easier than swimming in water which is 150 feet deep. Not because of any actual properties of the water column, but only because of my racing heart thinking about monsters of the deep.

    Recently, while hiking in the woods I came upon a stream with a log stretched across it, about 12 feet above the stream bed. I had to force (willpower) my legs to move each step, even though I could easily scamper across such a log if it were on the ground. Getting across basically involved clearing my mind of thoughts of splashing into the creek below, and just pretending (concentrating) that it was a safe move.

    Another time, I tried flipping a steak knife and catching it, but I kept pulling my hand away (not sure if voluntary or involuntary) and the knife would clatter to the floor. Then I tried it (knife flipping) while wearing a winter glove and was able to do it repeatedly without missing. Then I tried with just a dish glove. To make a long story short, I am typing with my toes now.

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