Scientists at Wesleyan University have used electroencephalography to uncover differences in how the brains of Classical and Jazz musicians react to an unexpected chord progression.
“I have been a classical musician for many years, and have always been inspired by the great jazz masters who can improvise beautiful performances on the spot,” explained study author Psyche Loui.
The researchers used EEG to compare the electrical brain activity of 12 Jazz musicians, 12 Classical musicians, and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions.
Louie and her colleagues found that Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progression, which indicated they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.
Previous research has found that Jazz improvisers and other creative individuals show higher levels of openness to experience and divergent thinking – meaning the ability to “Think outside the box.”
“We looked at three groups of subjects: jazz musicians, classical musicians, and people with no musical training other than normal schooling, so the results are most closely tied to musical training. It remains to be seen whether other types of creative groups, e.g. slam poets, cartoonists, interpretive dancers, etc. might show the same results,” Loui explained.
The study, “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity”, was also co-authored by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zeng, Kellyn Maves, and Cameron Arkin.