Ever notice that on-the-fly creativity seems to come in from thin air and out through your mouth before your brain even notices what’s going on? The intuitive and seemingly mindless process behind improvisation has been studied by neuroscientists in the past, but now researchers have finally asked rappers to step into the MRI.
They found that rapping memorized lyrics and rapping freestyle use entirely different parts of the brain. In fact, improvising actually shuts down the part of the frontal lobe that regulates other brain functions. So freestyling doesn’t just come from the more intuitive, emotional parts of your head; it actually shuts down the part that’s used to control the rest of your head, leaving you free to spit your best verses.
According to Scientific American’s report, “artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.”
Open Mike Eagle, who co-authored the study along with neuroscientists from the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, says the findings make perfect sense with his own experience of freestyle rapping. “That’s kind of the nature of that type of improvisation. Even as people who do it, we’re not 100% sure of where we’re getting improvisation from.”
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” said neuroscientist Allen Braun. He and his team are gearing up to study the brains of poets and storytellers next–and they’re hoping to discover how artistic skill level affects neurological activity. [Scientific American]
Watch Open Mike Eagle perform “The Processional” on Knocksteady Live below.