Artists seem to have a gift when it comes to capturing images and emotions in different mediums. It is often said that artist’s also see the world differently, though this would certainly be difficult to prove. What scientists have discovered though is that the structure and wiring of artists’ brains is quite different when compared to non-artists.
In a study published last year in NeuroImage, researchers looked at the brains of art students and non-artists using a brain scan method called voxel-based morphometry. This type of scan helps scientists look at specific brain structures, and the images from the brain scan look like this:
When the brains of the individuals in the two groups were compared, it was discovered that artists have significantly more neural matter in the parts of their brain responsible for visual imagery and fine motor control. Specifically, those who were better at drawing had more grey matter in the precuneus of the parietal lobe. Unsurprisingly, this region has been linked to creativity and being able to manipulate, combine, and deconstruct visual images. There were additional increases in grey and white matter in the cerebellum and the supplementary motor area, both involved in fine motor control.
So, the brain structures of artists are fundamentally different from those of non-artists, and there is more matter in areas linked to ‘artsy’ characteristics like creativity and visual imagery. Why is this important? Well for one thing, it debunks the whole idea of left-brain or right-brain dominant. Artists, which have commonly been said to be right brain dominant, had equally distributed grey and white matter across the different brain regions. Additionally, the study begs the age old question… are these physical differences the result of an individuals interest in and practice of art, or are the artists’ talents innate and simply a result of their brain structure? Nature versus nurture is not easy to decide in this case, and the scientists hope to conduct studies on artistically inclined children and teenagers to help tease out how much upbringing and training play a role in brain structure.
In any case, the research is fascinating and focuses more attention on how brain structure and wiring influence an individual’s interests and abilities. Nowadays, many studies are being conducted on brain wiring, and scientists are using new techniques to actually image and map the pathways between brain areas. This may make it possible to predict an individual’s brain characteristics in the future, and the images of the brain’s pathways are insanely cool:
The mapping of these pathways may also be beneficial for diagnosing mental health issues; one researcher believes the images can be used as a biomarker for different diseases. For example, individuals who are dyslexic may have anatomical changes in the language pathways. This cool video sheds more light on brain wiring and pathway imaging:
Chamberlain, I.C. McManus, N. Brunswick, Q. Rankin, H. Riley, R. Kanai. Drawing on the right side of the brain: a voxel-based morphometry analysis of observational drawing. NeuroImage, 1–34. (2014). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.03.062