Investigators will undertake fMRI imaging in jazz musicians as they create musical improvisations to examine whether the brain areas and processes that give rise to creative behavior are identifiable, consistent, and concrete.
Neuroscientists know little about the brain basis of spontaneous creativity, despite its essential roles in diverse activities spanning the arts and scientific discoveries- adapting to changing environments, solving problems and using language. The investigators’ prior fMRI imaging studies on spontaneous creativity used musical improvisation as a prototype. Those studies showed activation during musical improvisation of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex—involved in self-organizing and generated behaviors that are internally motivated and independent of external stimuli. Concurrently, other areas of the prefrontal cortex—involved in focused attention—are deactivated. Based on these findings, the investigators hypothesize that innovative internally motivated production of novel material occurs outside of conscious awareness and beyond volitional control.
This hypothesis is consistent with an emerging scientific view that the medial prefrontal cortex, and especially its frontal polar cortex, may be a constituent of a “default” system related to internal control that is typically more active at rest and may be related to altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, meditation and daydreaming. Spontaneous improvised creativity, therefore, may be defocused, free-floating attention that permits unplanned associations and sudden insights or realizations.
Now the researchers plan to undertake two studies with jazz musicians to further examine the brain basis of spontaneous creativity. One study is designed to examine the neural basis for the generative and interactive “musical conversation” between two jazz musicians during improvisation. Ten professional jazz pianists (five pairs) will engage in a musical call and answer (called “trading fours”): one musician plays the jazz melody (outside the scanner) and the other, while in an fMRI scanner and using a keyboard, responds with musical improvisation. The investigators hypothesize that improvisation is associated with increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (self-generating activities) and concurrent reduction in lateral prefrontal activity (focused attention). Also, they predict, the musical exchanges will be associated with increased activity in the brain’s language areas.
The second study will examine the relationship between neural processes involved in creativity and emotion, and whether a decrease in the brain’s limbic system activity (involved in emotion) relates to a reduction in self-monitoring behavior during musical creativity. For this study, ten piano jazz musicians, while undergoing fMRI scanning, will be given a negative, neutral or positive word cue, and asked to improvise music on the keyboard reflecting that emotion. The hypothesis: limbic activity is modulated according to the emotional content being produced, rather than in response to the act of improvisation in general.