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In jazz improv, large portion of brain's prefrontal region 'takes 5' to let creativity flow
Date:2/26/2008

When John Coltrane was expanding the boundaries of the well-known song My Favorite Things at the Village Vanguard in May 1966, no one could have known what inspired him to take the musical turns he took. But imaging researchers may now have a better picture of how the brain was helping to carry him there. Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring ones performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated. The researchers propose that this and several related patterns are likely to be key indicators of a brain that is engaged in highly creative thought. NIDCD is one of the National Institutes of Health. The study is published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

During the study, six highly trained jazz musicians played the keyboard under two scenarios while in the functional MRI scanner. Functional MRI (fMRI) is an imaging tool that measures the amount of blood traveling to various regions of the brain as a means of assessing the amount of neural activity in those areas.

The ability to study how the brain functions when it is thinking creatively has been difficult for scientists because of the many variables involved, said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. Through some creative thinking of their own, these researchers designed a protocol in which jazz musicians could play a keyboard while in the confines of a functional MRI scanner. And in doing so, they were able to pinpoint differences in how the brain functions when the musicians are improvising as opposed to playing a simple melody from memory.

The study was conducted by researchers of NIDCDs Division of Intramural Researc
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Contact: Jennifer Wenger
jwenger@mail.nih.gov
301-496-7243
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Source:Eurekalert

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