Where does people’s creativity lie? The popular view argues that the right hemisphere of our brain is responsible for it, but scientists at Drexel University in the United States have decided to confirm that belief.
While it is believed that the most analytical and logical people rely more on the left part of our brain, those who are more imaginative and creative do so in the right hemisphere. The neuroscientists, who are quite skeptical of this view have argued that there is insufficient evidence to support this idea because such a complex capacity as human creativity must use vast swaths of both hemispheres.
To try to shed some light on this controversy, researchers at Drexel University have decided, through brain image analysis, to study the brain activity of jazz guitarists during improvisation. Their results, published in the scientific journal ‘ NeuroImage ‘, demonstrate that creativity is, in fact, primarily driven by the right hemisphere in musicians who are inexperienced in improvisation. However, those musicians with great experience in improvisation mainly depend on their left hemisphere. This suggests that creativity is a “capacity of the right part of the brain” when a person deals with an unknown situation, but that creativity is based on well-learned routines of the left hemisphere when the individual is experienced in the task.
Right side for novel activities
The researchers recorded high-density electroencephalograms (EEGs) of 32 jazz guitarists, with different levels of experience. 192 jazz improvisations were recorded (six songs for each of the participants) that were rated and scored, in their creativity and other qualities, by music experts and jazz teachers.
The researchers compared the EEGs of performances with high and low creativity scores. For those that were better considered, that is, the most creative, there was more activity in the posterior areas of the left hemisphere of the brain; in the less creative ones, there was more activity in the front and rear areas of the right hemisphere.
“If creativity is defined in terms of the quality of a product, such as a song or a painting, the left hemisphere plays a key role”
These results might suggest that highly creative interpretations are associated with posterior areas of the left hemisphere and that less creative interpretations are associated with areas of the right hemisphere. However, the researchers said, this pattern is misleading because it does not take into account the experience of the musician.
When the researchers reanalyzed the EEGs to statistically control the artists’ level of experience, a very different pattern emerged in the results. Virtually all differences in brain activity between highly creative and less creative performances were found in the right hemisphere, mainly in the frontal region.
“If creativity is defined in terms of the quality of a product, such as a song, fiction, poem or painting, then the left hemisphere plays a key role,” says John Kounios, professor of Psychology and director of the PhD in Applied and Cognitive Brain Sciences at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Drexel University.
“However, if creativity is understood as a person’s ability to deal with novel and unfamiliar situations, as is the case with novice improvisers, then the right hemisphere plays the leading role.”