Gibson, C., Folley, B. S., Park, Sohee (2008). Enhanced divergent thinking and creativity in musicians: A behavioral and near-infrared spectroscopy . Brain and Cognition, 69(2009), 162-169. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.07.009.
The purpose of this study was to examine creativity as demonstrated by divergent thinking and to link it to personality traits, intelligence (IQ), and activity in the frontal cortical regions of the brain, which have shown increased activity in association with creative (divergent) thinking.
Divergent thinking has long been seen as a component of creativity as it requires flexibility in thinking and problem solving, in particular, the ability to guide one’s thoughts without clearly defined parameters. Interestingly, in a previous study, people displaying more schizotypal personality traits also showed greater activity in the frontal cortical area of the brain, demonstrating a link between creativity and psychosis-proneness.
Musicians are seen as highly creative people, so the authors of the study recruited 20 classical music students and 20 non-musicians for two experiments. All participants were assessed for intelligence, handedness (fine motor skills in each hand), and verbal fluency. They also filled out questionnaires regarding creativity and schizotypal personality.
a) Remote Associates Test (RAT) – Participants were given three words and were asked to find another associated word. They could generate as many words as they want but there’s one correct answer.
b) Divergent Thinking Test (DTT) – Participants were asked to generate uses for objects alone and in combination with others. There was no time limit and they could come up with as many uses as they wanted.
EXPERIMENT #2: (used a subset of the original group: 8 musicians, 7 non-musicians)
Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) was used to measure blood oxygenation changes in the frontal cortex during a modified DTT.
Musicians self-reported greater creative and schizotypal traits in the questionnaires. Musicians showed higher levels of divergent thinking and IQ (including verbal). There was no difference in handedness between groups. Musicians scored better on both the RAT and DTT. Musicians showed greater activity in both sides of the frontal cortex whereas non-musicians showed more activity in the left side.
This study, by the authors’ own account seems to provide greater credence to the idea that music makes you smarter. Musicians also seem to be more creative and think more ‘out-of-the-box’ than non-musicians. Perhaps a bit more disturbing is the link to psychosis-proneness, though musicians in this study did not achieve clinical levels. It’s also not the first time that higher IQ has been linked to mental health concerns (click here for an example).
Musical training certainly encourages an expansion of the imagination, and even without knowing that music causes activity in many areas of the brain, it’s easy to recognize the full-body involvement it calls for, not to mention the emotional element that factors into the equation. Divergent thinking may be an outcome of our need to draw from diverse thoughts and experiences----tactile, sensual, emotional, etc. It makes sense that the cognitive-perceptual part of the schizotypal questionnaire has to do with “perceptual aberrations and magical thinking”. I’m not sure what they mean by magical thinking, exactly, but what else to we do when we write, improvise, or interpret a piece, but conceptualize the world in ways that others may not?
I do wonder, however, whether musical training can cause a greater manifestation of these traits, or whether those predisposed to toward these traits and ways of thinking gravitate toward music and other arts.