The neural signature of creativity
In 1980, Ron Davis realized that his mind was at its dyslexic worst when he was at his creative best. This key insight led him to seek out a way to control his mental state, to find a way to consciously turn the dyslexia off at will.
Research scientists are now using fMRI brain scans to develop a profile the brain states associated with creativity. They have done this through brain scans looking at the changes in brain processes among jazz musicians and free style rappers while improvising.
The researchers explain that during free improvisation, the artists enter enter a “flow” state, described as a “complete immersion in creative activity, typified by focused self-motivation, positive emotional valence and loss of self-consciousness.” Their creative gate is wide open.
Dr. Allen Braun explains, “It’s the absence of attention. When the attention system is partially offline, you can just let things fly and let things come without critiquing, monitoring or judging them. We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur.”
“It’s almost like you’re able to think faster,” adds co-author Daniel Rizik-Baer. “You’re able to incorporate multiple perspectives without thinking about it.”
The studies show that during improvisation, activity in part of the frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal region is reduced. According to Dr. Siyuan Liu, the “lateral part of the frontal cortex actually plays a role in attention, self-monitoring and other executive functions.”
In other words, the studies show that the creative process is enhanced with the suppression of activity in the part of the brain that controls attention focus.
This research provides brain scan evidence to explain the connection Ron Davis observed between disorientation and the creative process. We might expect to find that Davis Orientation is a way of activating the frontal brain region that is observed to subside during the creative mental process.
- “This is your brain on freestyle rap,” by Nic Halverson. Discovery News, November 15, 2012.
- “Brain scans of rappers shed light on creativity,” by Daniel Cressey. Nature, November 15, 2012.
- “Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap.” Siyuan Liu,Ho Ming Chow, Yisheng Xu, Michael G. Erkkinen, Katherine E. Swett, Michael W. Eagle, Daniel A. Rizik-Baer & Allen R. Braun. Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 834 doi:10.1038/srep00834. 15 November 2012
- “Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: an FMRI study of jazz improvisation.’ Charles J. Limb, Allen R. Braun. PLoS One 3, e1679 (2008).