and imagined musical improvisation were associated with weaker
connectivity to the executive function network in the brain and to the
feeling of flow, which allows for unhindered musical creativity.
Source:Georgia State University
research team at Georgia State University has identified how the brain
changes when artists are in a state of “flow” and found that simply
imagining improvised performances elicits the same flow-like brain
states as when musicians are singing.
In the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports,
researchers recruited 21 advanced jazz musicians, who were prompted to
vocalize or imagine one of the four scores from the Bebop era of jazz
based on a standard 12-bar blues chordal progression while undergoing
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
multidisciplinary research team — which includes experts in
mathematics, physics, music, neuroscience and computer science — then
used the fMRI data to identify how a musician’s brain reconfigures
connectivity depending on the degree of creativity required during jazz
performances, focusing on two major brain networks: the default mode
network and the executive control network.
estimated static functional network connectivity as jazz musicians were
vocalizing, imagining, improvising or performing pre-learned, memorized
scores,” said principal investigator Victor M. Vergara.
Norgaard, associate professor in the School of Music and co-author of
the study, says the work provides new insight into the minds of expert
jazz musicians at work.
so fascinating is that we saw very similar brain patterns and activity
whether they were actually scat singing or just imagining an improvised
performance,” said Norgaard.
study builds on previous research demonstrating that subjects’ brains
show lower functional connectivity during musical improvisation. The new
findings reveal that improvisation is associated with a state of weak
connectivity to the brain’s executive control network and to a feeling
of “flow,” which allows unhindered musical creation.
executive control network is typically active in many tasks, including
solving problems. The default mode network seems to be more active when a
subject is in the resting state,” said Norgaard. “We saw that when
expert musicians are improvising, the brain is interfering less with
study was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Translational
Research in Neuroimaging and Data Science (TReNDS), which is supported
by Georgia State, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory
University. Vince Calhoun, founding director of TReNDS and a
Distinguished University Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience, said
the new study allowed researchers to observe widespread and richer
effects of connectivity. It is the first analysis of whole brain
connectivity during vocalized and imagined real-time production of
brain is highly dynamic, so mapping how brain function changes over
time is a much more natural way to analyze the data and capture
functional patterns linked to either behavioral conditions or to
resting,” said Calhoun.
part of the team at TReNDS center, Vergara and his colleagues were able
to extract signals from the brain using a non-invasive method to reduce
any interference in the creative process. The team created a custom
algorithm to identify the resting state networks.
imaging produces vast amounts of time-varying measurements that are
difficult to parse. Pattern recognition algorithms were necessary to
pinpoint the relevant brain areas involved in the creative process,”
said Vergara. “We then compared the different patterns to understand the
differences between performing improvisation and pre-rehearsed music.”
study’s paradigm allows for the inclusion of expert jazz performers
with many different instrument specializations, which suggests the
results may be broadly applicable to all improvising musicians. Future
research could adapt the same paradigm to other activities where
creation happens in real time — like in performing freestyle rap or
spoken-word poetry and even playing sports — potentially identifying
common threads in the creative process inside the human brain.
there are more specific questions we can consider, like what changes
are happening in the brain while someone improvises or which different
networks are involved,” said Norgaard. “That’s called dynamic
connectivity, and that’s what we’re hoping to research next.”