Scanning the brains of jazz musicians

According to new research, jazz musicians unconsciously switch off regions of the brain involved in self-censorship and firing up the area linked to self-expression. The scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders used fMRI to scan the brains of jazz musicians as they played a specially-designed piano keyboard. From a press release:

The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain's frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

"Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person's improvisation sounds only like him or her," says (professor Charles) Limb. "What we think is happening is when you're telling your own musical story, you're shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas."

Link to press release, Link to scientific paper in Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE (via Michael Leddy's Orange Crate Art)