Host Jonathan Zarov talks with guest Malinda J. McPherson, by phone, about her research on the neural basis of creativity:
Emotion is a primary motivator for creative behaviors, yet the interaction between the neural systems involved in creativity and those involved in emotion has not been studied. In the current study, we addressed this gap by using fMRI to examine piano improvisation in response to emotional cues. We showed twelve professional jazz pianists photographs of an actress representing a positive, negative or ambiguous emotion. Using a non-ferromagnetic thirty-five key keyboard, the pianists improvised music that they felt represented the emotion expressed in the photographs. Here we show that activity in prefrontal and other brain networks involved in creativity is highly modulated by emotional context. Furthermore, emotional intent directly modulated functional connectivity of limbic and paralimbic areas such as the amygdala and insula. These findings suggest that emotion and creativity are tightly linked, and that the neural mechanisms underlying creativity may depend on emotional state.
Malinda J. McPherson, 23, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Science from Johns Hopkins University, and an MPhil in Music and Science from the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, Malinda was a member of Churchill College, and was a Churchill Scholar. Malinda is currently a PhD student in the Harvard/MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology, where she is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.