Stimulation of the primary motor cortex enhances creativity and technical fluency of piano improvisations

Aydin Anic, William Forde Thompson, Kirk N. Olsen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionResearchpeer-review


Musical improvisation is an ecologically valid and contextually appropriate medium to investigate the neuroscience of creativity. Previous research has identified several brain regions that are involved in musical creativity: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), the presupplementary motor area (pre-SMA), and the ventral and dorsal premotor cortex (vPMC and dPMC, respectively). These brain regions underpin high-level processing and motor functions. The present study asked whether the primary motor cortex (M1 region) plays a role in creativity and technical fluency. The M1 region underpins the acquisition and consolidation of novel motor skills and hand movement. Here, we used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to investigate the overarching research question. tDCS is a non-invasive mode of brain stimulation that is delivered via two saline-soaked electrodes diametric in charge: the anodal electrode stimulates neural activation; the cathodal electrodes inhibits neural activation. A bi-hemispheric, online tDCS montage was used in this study. Eight proficient pianists were recruited and separated into two tDCS groups: Anodal-Left M1/Cathodal-Right M1 (n = 4) and Cathodal-Left M1/Anodal-Right M1 (n = 4). tDCS was administered whilst participants performed musical improvisations. The level of creativity and technical fluency was judged independently by an expert musician adjudicator. We hypothesised that the Anodal-Left M1/Cathodal-Right M1 (excitatory) tDCS group will demonstrate an enhancement of creativity and technical fluency compared to the Cathodal-Left M1/Anodal-Right M1 (inhibitory) tDCS group. The preliminary results show that during musical improvisation, creativity (p = .07) and technical fluency (p = .05) increased when excitatory tDCS was applied to the left M1 region of proficient pianists. Furthermore, there was no apparent decrease in creativity and technical fluency for the inhibitory tDCS group. In light of these preliminary findings, we conclude that there is some evidence that the M1 region does contribute to musical creativity. Future work with a larger sample size will shed further light on this contribution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 10th International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology (SysMus17)
EditorsPeter M. C. Harrison
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes
Event10th International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology - Queen Mary, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Sept 201715 Sept 2017
Conference number: 10th


Conference10th International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology
Abbreviated titleSysMus17
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
OtherThe SysMus conference series is run by students for students, and provides the
opportunity to gain experience in conference attending, presenting, networking, and organising.
SysMus17 received 76 submissions in the form of extended abstracts. Each abstract was reviewed by two reviewers and one meta-reviewer from the SysMus17 scientific committee. On the basis of these reviews, 47 abstracts (62%) were accepted for the conference. Each of these accepted submissions is represented in this proceedings book, either by an extended abstract or by a
longer paper. The SysMus17 papers represent a variety of perspectives on
systematic musicology. Most describe empirical studies, but also included are theory, analysis, and history papers. The ‘word cloud’ on the cover of this proceedings book plots the 100 most common words found in the SysMus17 proceedings, with the size of each word proportional to its frequency of occurrence. The word cloud clearly indicates that music is at the centre of
SysMus17; within music, particular focuses include performance, emotion, rhythm, analysis, listening, perception, teaching, and creativity.
It was a pleasure to receive so many submissions for SysMus17, and to work with the authors to finalise their proceedings contributions. I’m excited to imagine how our new generation of systematic musicologists will contribute to the field in the coming years.
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