Music conveys the deepest, most hidden emotions — and in a new study it turns out that musical artists' brains work differently when they attempt to express their emotions through making tunes.
A team of researchers from University of California San Francisco found through a brain-scanning study on jazz pianists that the workings of neural circuits linked to creativity are substantially altered when artists actively try to express emotions.
The team published their findings Jan. 4 in the journal Scientific Reports.
Neuroimaging studies over the last 10 years identified parts of the brain's circuitry governing different domains of creativity.
The new study, however, found that creativity stems from a wide range of brain regions, processes, and networks, and cannot be simply defined based on when a brain region network is activated or deactivated.
Instead, when creative acts attempt to convey certain emotions, the emotion strongly affects which parts and how much of the brain's creativity network are activated.
"The bottom line is that emotion matters," said senior study author and jazz musician Dr. Charles Limb in a press release. He emphasized that emotions critically influence different creative states, unlike in a binary situation where the brain works this way when one is creative and works another when one is not.
The team's previous study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study creative acts such as freestyle rap and musical improvisation, which happen real-time and can be studied in a lab setting unlike novel writing or making a symphony. The creative acts were found to deactivate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which influences behavioral planning and monitoring.
In the new study, the team put jazz pianists inside the fMRI scanner with a small keyboard, asking them for a melodic improvisation.
They found that DLPFC deactivation was significantly greater when the musicians tried to convey a positive emotion, while there was a greater activation of the reward systems of the brains when the artists tried to express negative emotions.
The Emotion-Creativity Connection
The findings indicated that it may be easier to get into one's zone when making happy music, although making sad music also induced pleasure but in a different way.
"This indicates there may be different mechanisms for why it's pleasurable to create happy versus sad music," said study first author Malinda McPherson, a graduate student at Harvard and also a classical violinist.
Dr. Limb pointed to the emotion-creativity link as "truly fundamental" and possibly key in preserving mankind's creativity.
"Humans seem to need creativity in order to understand and examine the human experience, which is (in our opinion) a deeply emotional one," he said in an email interview.
The research also seemed to confirm another long-time suspicion: creativity is a messy affair. According to Dr. Lamb, the workings and maneuverings of the creative process still has a largely mysterious nature, even to neuroscientists.
Photo: USDA | Flickr