Jazz Jam Shuts Down Prefrontal Cortex

A recent study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has discovered that some remarkable transformations take place in the brains of jazz musicians when they begin to improvise…

(from Music Technology)

Creative Thought Is Unmonitored

When a musician is performing a pre-defined and structured piece of music, the prefrontal cortex of the brain remains highly active. However, when the musician begins jamming (starts to ad-lib in a free-flowing, instinctive manner), the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex shuts down and a small area “involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors” becomes energised.

The study itself involved some improvisation, as the musicians had to play keyboards within an MRI scanner, which is no mean feat. The were first asked to play scales and pre-set sequences of notes, until finally they were allowed to improvise freely to a backing track.

You can read about the results of the study here, but the essence of the findings are that creativity is essentially an ‘unmonitored’ activity. That is, when someone is being creative, the usual conscious analytics performed by the brain on routine tasks are bypassed – “the suppression of inhibitory, self-monitoring brain mechanisms helps to promote the free flow of novel ideas and impulses. While this brain pattern is unusual, it resembles the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming.”


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