The researchers believe that this and several related patterns are likely to be key indicators of a brain engaged in highly creative thought. The involvement of many variables has made it difficult for scientists to study the functioning of brain during the process of creative thinking, a researcher of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders-funded study said.
To study how the brain functions when it is thinking creatively, the researchers designed a protocol in which six highly trained jazz musicians played the keyboard under two scenarios while in the functional MRI scanner.
Functional MRI (fMRI) is an imaging tool that measures the amount of blood travelling to various regions of the brain as a means of assessing the amount of neural activity in those areas.
The researchers were able to differentiate the brain functions when the musicians were improvising as opposed to playing a simple melody from memory.
The study published in the February issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One, found that much of the change between improvisation and memorisation 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.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the large portion responsible for monitoring one"s performance shuts down completely during improvisation, while the much smaller, centrally located region at the foremost part of the brain, medial prefrontal cortex becomes highly active. This portion is involved in self-initiated thoughts and behaviours, and is very active when a person describes an event that has happened to him or makes up a story.
The study noted that suppression of inhibitory, self-monitoring brain mechanisms helped to promote the free flow of novel ideas and impulses. The functioning of brain when thinking creatively resembled the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming, it said.