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Neuroimage. 2010 Jan 1;49(1):712-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.08.042. Epub 2009 Aug 26.

Expertise-related deactivation of the right temporoparietal junction during musical improvisation.

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  • 1Department of Music, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.


Musical training has been associated with structural changes in the brain as well as functional differences in brain activity when musicians are compared to nonmusicians on both perceptual and motor tasks. Previous neuroimaging comparisons of musicians and nonmusicians in the motor domain have used tasks involving prelearned motor sequences or synchronization with an auditorily presented sequence during the experiment. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine expertise-related differences in brain activity between musicians and nonmusicians during improvisation--the generation of novel musical-motor sequences--using a paradigm that we previously used in musicians alone. Despite behaviorally matched performance, the two groups showed significant differences in functional brain activity during improvisation. Specifically, musicians deactivated the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) during melodic improvisation, while nonmusicians showed no change in activity in this region. The rTPJ is thought to be part of a ventral attentional network for bottom-up stimulus-driven processing, and it has been postulated that deactivation of this region occurs in order to inhibit attentional shifts toward task-irrelevant stimuli during top-down, goal-driven behavior. We propose that the musicians' deactivation of the rTPJ during melodic improvisation may represent a training-induced shift toward inhibition of stimulus-driven attention, allowing for a more goal-directed performance state that aids in creative thought.

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