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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Management > Strategic Planning for Green and Sustainable Management > Research and Development

Creativity and Innovation Science Make Jazzy Progress

Creativity research results arise from jazz musician MRI tests.

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Music is part of our creativity and innovation heritage I've been intrigued and involved by creative work and expression for most of my life. All children engage in creative exploration as they learn and grow...and some adults choose creative lines of work and avocations. That's me. As a mother, I undertook crafts, interior design, sewing, cooking and engaged in these activities as open ended creative exercises.

As a professional, I'm a communications designer and producer. Marketing communications, fine arts, photography, radio, videography, acting, writing, editing, book design, Web design, Web publishing, Book publishing...all combinations of creativity and craft.

During the 1980s I conducted extensive research into "creativity" through medical, philosophical and art journals that reported sociological and scientific research. My findings were spotty. Researchers found only glimpses of core strategies engaged during creative exercises and anecdotal observations about how to encourage and foster creativity in others.

The "decade of the brain" focused major scientific and medical research during the 1990s and I followed with baited breath. Not many results.

But now, with brain imaging MRIs and CAT scans, etc. we're entering a new phase of research about how the brain works -- and creative activity.

Saxophonist-turned-hearing specialist Dr. Charles Limb has tested jazz improvisation as a tool to observe creativity activity in the brain — by comparing what happens in trained musicians' brains when they play by memory and when they riff. Limb is a Johns Hopkins University otolaryngologist whose ultimate goal is to help the deaf not only hear but hear music.

An MRI scanner was rigged up with jazz musicians and an instrument to measure changes in oxygen use by different brain regions as they perform different tasks. Here are the general results:

Getting creative uses the same brain circuitry that Braun has measured during dreaming: First, inhibition switched off. The scientists watched a brain region responsible for that self-monitoring, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, shut down.

Then self-expression switched on. A smaller area called the medial prefrontal cortex fired up, a key finding as Braun's earlier research on how language forms linked that region to autobiographical storytelling. And jazz improvisation produces such individual styles that it's often described as telling your own musical story.

More intriguing, the musicians also showed heightened sensory awareness. Regions involved with touch, hearing and sight revved up during improv even though no one touched or saw anything different, and the only new sounds were the ones they created.

We're making progress...and the possibilities are fascinating. Creativity continues to be a "conversation" with yourself and your community -- a theory I've played with for decades!


Read the full article at MSNBC

For a more in-depth press release about Dr. Lamb's work, check the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

One notable finding was that the brain scans were nearly identical for the low-level and high-level forms of improvisation, thus supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that the change in neural activity was due to creativity and not the complexity of the task. If the latter were the case, there would have been a more noticeable difference between the Scale and Jazz paradigms, since the Jazz paradigm was significantly more complex.

Moreover, the researchers found that much of the change between improvisation and memorization occurred in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the frontal lobe of the brain that helps us think and problem-solve and that provides a sense of self. Interestingly, the large portion responsible for monitoring one’s performance (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) shuts down completely during improvisation, while the much smaller, centrally located region at the foremost part of the brain (medial prefrontal cortex) increases in activity. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved in self-initiated thoughts and behaviors, and is very active when a person describes an event that has happened to him or makes up a story. The researchers explain that, just as over-thinking a jump shot can cause a basketball player to fall out of the zone and perform poorly, the suppression of inhibitory, self-monitoring brain mechanisms helps to promote the free flow of novel ideas and impulses. While this brain pattern is unusual, it resembles the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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