Scientists Prove that Jazz Players Don’t Think – They Just Play

Scientists at John Hopkins University in Maryland have studied the brain of jazz musicians and have concluded that when “engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation,” the portion of the brain that actively monitors the performance shuts down.

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 … 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.

The researchers monitored keyboard performers while hooked up to an MRI machine and collected brain data to see which area of the brain is active during both technical exercises as well as creative improvisation.

… 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.

For the full article, head over to Also, PLoS ONE has the original research data that offers a MUCH more detailed and scientific explanation of the experiment.

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