For centuries, the creative process has remained a mystery, but the exploratory nature of MRI technology is now able to pick up which parts of the brain are activated during improvisation and spontaneous creation.
Two LA-based rappers, Daniel Rizik-Baer and Michael Eagle, teamed up with researchers Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu of the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in organizing a group of five professional rappers to perform two rhymes–one memorized and the other freestyled–from within an MRI machine.
The rappers must have felt a bit out of place; MRI machines create a moderate amount of noise, and they had to lie on their backs, completely still, for the duration of their scans.
The results are fascinating: a comparison of brain activity from when the rappers were performing the pre-memorized pieces, to when they switched to improvisation, showed that each activity activated two very separate regions of the brain. While the performers freestyled fresh lyrics, researchers noted that the part of the brain that allows us to organize and execute complex tasks (such as recitation from memory) were deactivated, while the part of the brain that deals with spontaneous action, language and emotion was alight. The authors found their results to be in correlation with a study from 2008, where jazz pianists went under the scanner to produce similar results.
This study is one of many current scientific experiments determined to discover more about the brain’s role in free flowing artistic creativity.