Have you ever watched freestyle rap battles on YouTube and wonder how the rappers are so creative with their lyrics, and also so quick to deliver? Well, a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports offers some insight into just exactly where the creativity centers of the brain are located and how they function during creative processing.
The study called upon 12 professional rappers to first recite an identical, well-rehearsed set of lyrics and then improvise lyrics using an identical 8-bar music track. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists analyzed which regions of the brain exhibited increases or decreases of activity between rehearsed vs. freestyle rapping. The results showed that one specific brain region – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – showed significant decreases in activity during freestyle rapping vs. rehearsed rapping.
These results are very intriguing considering that a previous study has found an inverse correlation between the volume of some frontal lobe structures and creativity. Combined, the results suggest that diminished prefrontal lobe activity allows for enhanced creativity.
The prefrontal lobe has been linked to regulation of multiple brain activities, thus researchers believe a decrease in activity of this brain region frees up bandwidth for the brain to perform other high-energy functions, which most people agree includes creative cognition.
Interestingly, the researchers commented that reducing prefrontal cortex activity can create a situation whereby rappers may have generated their freestyle lyrics “…outside of conscious awareness”. One of the rappers involved in the study, Open Mike Eagle, agrees with such a statement.
“That’s kind of the nature of that type of improvisation. Even as people who do it, we’re not 100% sure of where we’re getting improvisation from.”
Overall, the study is a cool bridge between science and popular culture, and it actually does a lot to broaden our understanding of creative processing. Perhaps diminished prefrontal lobe volume is the unifying factor among the great innovators of all time, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs.
And finally, I think the best line by far in the study details the importance of high linguistic capability for freestyling rapping success. It’s probably the most scientific explanation of what it takes to be a skilled freestyler ever put together!
This highlights the importance of superior linguistic skills in this genre, which requires rapid online formulation of meaningful, rhyming words and phrases within a prescribed tempo and rhythm.
And so, I think the appropriate conclusion to this article is this: Word.