Friday, January 07, 2011

Charles Limb: Your Brain on Improv

Musician and researcher Charles Limb wondered how the brain works during musical improvisation -- so he put jazz musicians and rappers in an fMRI to find out. What he and his team found has deep implications for our understanding of creativity of all kinds.

“Well, this is actually four rappers' brains. And what we see, we do see language areas lighting up, but then -- eyes closed -- when you are free-styling versus memorizing, you've got major visual areas lighting up. You've got major cerebellar activity, which is involved in motor coordination. You have heightened brain activity when you're doing a comparable task, when that one task is creative and the other task is memorized.”

“When he was trading fours with me, improvising versus memorized, his language areas lit up, his Broca's area, which is inferior frontal gyrus on the left. He actually had it also homologous on the right. This is an area thought to be involved in expressive communication. This whole notion that music is a language, well maybe there's a neurologic basis to it in fact after all, and we can see it when two musicians are having a musical conversation.“

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