An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap

by thewheatandthechaff


To better understand the cherished attribute of creativity, neuroscientists at NIH set their sights on the brains of freestyle rappers.

fMRI is one of the main tools of neuroscience. It produces images of bloodflow in the brain and illuminates which regions of the brain are working hard. Twelve professional rappers boasting a minimum of 5 years experience were enlisted for the experiment. Each participant was given 8 bars worth of lyrics to memorise a week before the brain scan. This provided the “conventional” control experiment against which improvisation could be gauged. The improvisation experiment tasked the rappers with freestyling over the same 8 bar segment of music.

The findings of the study were interesting: when the rappers were improvising their brains entered a state of ‘flow’. Several regions of the brain involved in sensory experience were activated and connected, while self-control was inhibited. This suggests that genuine immersion in the moment is commensurate with, if not essential to, spitting lyrical genius.

The full ‘what, why and how’ is available to peruse at your leisure here.