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Expressing Emotions Influences Brain’s Creativity Network

Artists actively expressing their emotions are linked with modifications in neural circuits associated with creativity in a new study focusing on jazz pianists. The paper is published in Scientific Reports.


While previous research has linked creativity with neural circuits, suggesting that certain networks in the brain have to be deactivated or activated to explain creativity, the new study puts forward the idea that emotion is the key.

According to the findings, the researchers explain that when engaged by creativity, brain regions involved in the expression of emotions affect the activation of different parts of the brain creativity network.

Senior author Charles Limb from the University of California, San Francisco thus says that “emotion matters”. He explains that creativity exists in different states and versions – differences that are greatly influenced by emotion. According to him, the matter is not about a “binary situation” whereby creativity involves one state of your brain and non-creativity, another.

Limb who is also a jazz saxophonist had previously deactivated a brain region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) which is linked with behaviour monitoring; the deactivation has been interpreted as a neural signature pertaining to the “flow state” associated with artists giving free reins to their creativity impulses. The new research, on the other hand, suggests it is more than that.

The new findings show that DLPFC deactivation would be greater when jazz musicians improvised melodies meant to express emotion in a positive image (photograph of a woman smiling) than when they intended to convey emotions in a negative one (picture of the same woman in a somewhat distressed state).

Furthermore, when they took to improvisation to express emotions in the negative image, the brain’s reward regions were activated more – this is said to strengthen behaviours that bring pleasurable results – and these regions also had a greater connectivity to the DLPFC.

“There’s more deactivation of the DLPFC during happy improvisations, perhaps indicating that people are getting into more of a ‘groove’ or ‘zone,’ but during sad improvisations there’s more recruitment of areas of the brain related to reward,” said McPherson, a classical violist from the Harvard-MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology. “This indicates there may be different mechanisms for why it’s pleasurable to create happy versus sad music.”


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