Time to implode one of your sacred cows: Creative excellence is mostly driven by the left brain, not the right brain, according to new research. This flies in the face of all of our popular notions about how right-brain thinkers are free-spirited creatives while left-brain thinkers are steeped in logic and analytics.
In a new study in the journal NeuroImage, researchers at Drexel University conducted EEG scans while 32 guitarists to improvise jazz to six leads (songs). They found the guitarists’ brain activity to be almost entirely left-brain.
A caveat: Inexperienced improvisers displayed right-brain activity and, not surprisingly, lower-quality music. (Professional jazz musicians judged the music.) This is a key insight, because it indicates that right-brain creativity is more about how the brain handles novel artistic situations—i.e., I’m totally winging this creative thing.
The study unexpectedly delves into how creative brain activity shifts with experience. Novices are more able to respond to instructions from a coach, because their right-brain creativity is under more conscious control from the frontal lobe. Left-brain creativity, meanwhile, produces higher-quality music in a somewhat unconscious, autopilot process that musicians have difficulty altering. The researchers hope to trace this shift in the learning process, to help creatives avoid locking in bad habits.