Researchers have begun to study the science of creativity: what it is, and why some people have more of it than others.
Jazz pianists and freestyle rappers can show us
One study observed with the assistance of an fMRI scanner the neural activities of professional jazz pianists while they each performed a song from memory and a freestyle improvised piece. The areas experiencing widespread activity were the language and sensorimotor areas. When improvising, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), which is associated with introspective thinking, was activated, and the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), involved in executive functions like planning and inhibition, showed a decrease in activity. These same results were also observed in freestyle rappers when improvising. Scientists believe that disengaging from the areas involved with executive functions allows the musicians to better revel in self-expression.
Let go of “yourself” to unlock creative thoughts
When cognitive control is reduced or low, the default mode network (DMN) of the brain – the area of the brain active when not focusing on a task or when we let our minds wander – becomes activated. This network includes the MPFC, and scientists believe that this is associated with the impromptu and spontaneous thoughts that pop up in our daydreams and could possibly contribute significantly to creative behavior.
What can you do with a brick?
In an effort to see if the structure of a person’s DMN affects their capacity for creativity, scientists performed MRI scans on a group of test subjects. After the scan, the participants had two minutes to come up with as many responses as they possibly could in response to the question, “What can you do with a brick?” The subjects with the more creative responses also had brains with a greater amount of grey matter within both the DMN and the MPFC regions.
Though they cannot confirm whether the increased volume of grey matter is the result of creative thoughts or if creative thoughts are the result of a larger amount of grey matter, researchers definitely see a correlation between the two.
The study of creativity is still a young field, but scientists think they are on the right path to figuring out how to unlock creativity by observing what happens when cognitive control of the mind is reduced.