Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Musicians use both sides of their brains more frequently.

A colleague pointed me to this interesting (to me, because I'm a pianist) work by Sohee Park's laboratory at Vanderbilt. Their central finding is that professionally trained musicians more effectively use divergent thinking (the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems, or thinking 'outside of the box'). Creative thinking was tested both with written word association test and by asking subjects to make up new functions for a variety of household objects. Brain activity was measured by near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a noninvasive neuroimaging method that allows in-vivo measurement of changes in the concentrations of oxygenated hemoglobin and deoxygenated hemoglobin in the cortex. They suggest that musician's elevated use of both brain hemispheres may be related to having to use two hands independently, as well as follow multiple voices on musical scores. Folley, one of the authors, noted "“Musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres...Instrumental musicians often integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece, and they have to be very good at simultaneously reading the musical symbols, which are like left-hemisphere-based language, and integrating the written music with their own interpretation, which has been linked to the right hemisphere.” Here is the PDF of their article, and here is the abstract:
Empirical studies of creativity have focused on the importance of divergent thinking, which supports generating novel solutions to loosely defined problems. The present study examined creativity and frontal cortical activity in an externally-validated group of creative individuals (trained musicians) and demographically matched control participants, using behavioral tasks and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Experiment 1 examined convergent and divergent thinking with respect to intelligence and personality. Experiment 2 investigated frontal oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin concentration changes during divergent thinking with NIRS. Results of Experiment 1 indicated enhanced creativity in musicians who also showed increased verbal ability and schizotypal personality but their enhanced divergent thinking remained robust after co-varying out these two factors. In Experiment 2, NIRS showed greater bilateral frontal activity in musicians during divergent thinking compared with nonmusicians. Overall, these results suggest that creative individuals are characterized by enhanced divergent thinking, which is supported by increased frontal cortical activity.

1 comment:

  1. A great book that talks about divergent thinking and much more about creativity is Explaining Creativity, by Keith Sawyer. He gathers several theories about creativity and brain hemispheres. Just a tip!

    Great blog!