The Study

Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap

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Siyuan LiuHo Ming ChowYisheng XuMichael G. ErkkinenKatherine E. SwettMichael W. EagleDaniel A. Rizik-Baer, & Allen R. Braun
Published in: Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 834 | doi:10.1038/srep00834
Received 20 June 2012 | Accepted 19 October 2012 | Published 15 November 2012

The neural correlates of creativity are poorly understood. Freestyle rap provides a unique opportunity to study spontaneous lyrical improvisation, a multidimensional form of creativity at the interface of music and language. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to characterize this process. Task contrast analyses indicate that improvised performance is characterized by dissociated activity in medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, providing a context in which stimulus-independent behaviors may unfold in the absence of conscious monitoring and volitional control. Connectivity analyses reveal widespread improvisation-related correlations between medial prefrontal, cingulate motor, perisylvian cortices and amygdala, suggesting the emergence of a network linking motivation, language, affect and movement. Lyrical improvisation appears to be characterized by altered relationships between regions coupling intention and action, in which conventional executive control may be bypassed and motor control directed by cingulate motor mechanisms. These functional reorganizations may facilitate the initial improvisatory phase of creative behavior.


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