This is your brain on freestyle rap: Study reveals characteristic brain patterns of lyrical improvisation

November 15, 2012

Researchers in the voice, speech, and language branch of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain activity of rappers when they are "freestyling" – spontaneously improvising lyrics in real time. The findings, published online in the November 15 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, reveal that this form of vocal improvisation is associated with a unique functional reallocation of brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and proposes a novel neural network that appears to be intimately involved in improvisatory and creative endeavors.

The researchers, led by Siyuan Liu, Ph.D., scanned the brains of 12 freestyle rap artists (who had at least 5 years of rapping experience) while they performed two tasks using an identical 8-bar musical track. For the first task, they improvised rhyming lyrics and rhythmic patterns guided only by the beat. In the second task, they performed a well-rehearsed set of lyrics.

During freestyle rapping, the researchers observed increases in in the , a brain region responsible for motivation of thought and action, but decreased activity in dorsolateral prefrontal regions that normally play a supervisory or monitoring role. Like an experienced parent who knows when to lay down the law and when to look the other way, these shifts in brain function may facilitate the free expression of thoughts and words without the usual neural constraints.

Freestyling also increased brain activity in the perisylvian system (involved in language production), the amygdala (an area of the brain linked to emotion), and cingulate motor areas, suggesting that improvisation engages a brain network that links motivation, language, mood, and action. Further studies of this network in other art forms that involve the innovative use of language, such as poetry and storytelling, could offer more insights into the initial, improvisatory phase of the creative process.

Explore further: How fair sanctions are orchestrated in the brain

More information: "Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap by Siyuan Liu, et al. Scientific Report. Published online, November 15, 2012

Related Stories

How fair sanctions are orchestrated in the brain

October 6, 2011

Civilized human cohabitation requires us to respect elementary social norms. We guarantee compliance with these norms with our willingness to punish norm violations – often even at our own expense. This behavior goes ...

Depressed? Crossed wires in the brain

December 8, 2011

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a severely debilitating illness characterized by sadness and an inability to cope. Not only does it affect a person's ability to concentrate and make decisions, it also alters their ability ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 15, 2012
Before Rap there was 'Word Jazz' (from the late '50s)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.