It’s not a right brain, left brain thing. Because artists actually have different brains, according to research that keeps surfacing. “Anatomists would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, a writer, or a mathematician,” neurologist Dr. Oliver Sachs wrote in his 2007 book, Musicophilia.
“But they could recognize the brain of a professional musician without a moment’s hesitation.”
Part of this is innate and appears upon birth, though musical training or exposure to the arts can dramatically change brain structure. Either way, there’s more creative stuff up there: in the latest finding related to visual art, researchers found greater neural matter among visual artists in areas related to fine motor movements and visual imagery. “The people who are better at drawing really seem to have more developed structures in regions of the brain that control for fine motor performance and what we call procedural memory,” explained one of the lead scientists, Rebecca Chamberlain.
The study, officially release late last month, also involved scientists I. Chris McManus, Nicola Brunswick, Qona Rankin, Howard Riley, Ryota Kanai (more details on the report, published by NeuroImage, here).
The study itself was somewhat limited, though it complements a growing body of evidence that artistic brains are different. Chamberlain and associates compared the brains of 21 visual artists with 23 otherwise non-artistic individuals, employing a scanning method called voxel-based morphometry.
Here’s where this starts to get strange: in earlier studies, musicians were also found to activate visual areas of their brain in tests related to word recognition, particularly those trained at an early age. Perhaps more predictably, but equally interesting, is what auditory regions of the brain look like: in a 2002 study, scientists found that professional musicians had a far larger brain region called Heschl’s gyrus, or transverse temporal gyrus, which is responsible for processing and responding to sound. Amateurs also had larger gyrus regions, but not as large as professionals.
Top image by _DJ_@flickr adapted under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0); second image from the original Gray’s Anatomy textbook, and is in public domain.