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Brain Images Offer Picture of Creativity

Brain scans showing activity during improvisation versus recitation

When the brain is improvising, the large section responsible for monitoring one’s performance shuts down, as indicated by the large blue region in the image on bottom row, second from right. Conversely, a much smaller, centrally located region at the foremost part of the brain increases in activity, which is indicated by the two yellow spots at the top of the image on the top row, second from right. This part of the brain is involved in self-initiated thoughts and behaviors.

Image courtesy of Charles Limb/Johns Hopkins University

NIDCD scientists recently enlisted the help of jazz musicians to reveal differences between brain activity during the creative act of improvising and the recitation of a melody from memory.

Their study, published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One, showed that when the musicians improvised, a large region of their brains involved in monitoring performance shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors was highly active. The researchers propose that this and several related patterns are likely indicators of a brain that is engaged in creative thought.

Allen R. Braun, M.D., chief of the NIDCD Language Section, and Charles J. Limb, M.D., then an NIDCD research fellow, conducted the study. Dr. Limb is now an otolaryngologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and faculty member at the university’s Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Read the NIDCD news release.

Last Updated Date: 
June 7, 2010