Mapping the brain is an ongoing adventure. What bits do what for our conscious experience and where our awareness comes from are hotly debated subjects. When we peel open the conscious, we find yet more layers of brain activity that we are not aware of. Is this still us? When ideas and similarities pop into our head, are we the one who thinks them or the one who agrees to accept them? When creativity comes into play, the process of filtering is reduced. We allow the spontaneous to become part of the process. How does this happen in the brain? A group of scientists decided to find out.
Music is perhaps one of the most creative industries in the world. The use of frequency and timing has an almost unlimited scope. We have an amazing array of instruments on hand that can produce any frequency and wave-shape that we like. With computers it's possible to use evermore tiny and ever longer increments of timing to exact precision. How can music be studied in a way that explains the neurological process of creativity? We must scan the brains of people while they are being creative.
A group of 32 guitar players were hand-picked for their ability to play along with jazz music. How can their creativity be quantified though? Another group of judges were employed. Professional jazz musicians were needed. Four luminaries in their field were given the job of scoring each guitarist on their creative ability. It was hoped that by reading the brain activity of the guitarists while they jammed along with the music would shed some light on how they come up with their unique music.
It was theorised that the right hand side of the brain is responsible for most of our artistic and abstract thought. On the other side of our brain, the left hemisphere, the linear and logical thought processes were more common. It was found that the guitar players did indeed demonstrate strong right hemisphere thinking while being creative. The most creative of the batch showed the most activity in this area. The least creative improvisations resulted in more left-brain activity. This result fitted with the left-right brain theory. This isn't enough though, the brain is not an organ of two sides but an organ of many dimensions.
Clearly there is more happening than just two sides of the brain competing for conscious thought. The experience of the guitar player became a matter of interest. When guitar players had a lot of automatic actions from years of practice their creativity was more easily accessed. Those who had to think about what they were playing tended to demonstrate lower creativity. When experience was filtered out of the equation the results showed that all the musicians used their right hemisphere to compose music with.
This doesn't necessarily mean that creativity is best. Often when a song becomes a hit it's because it follows a guideline that other hits have proven. The real skill in writing music comes not from being unique and original but by doing what people want in a way that sounds new. This unique blending of the two hemispheres and the two opposing virtues of mind is what makes a truly great piece of creativity.
Read the study here.
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