Researches conducted functional MRI brain scans on 6 skilled jazz musicians while they improvised to learn about the neuroscience of jazz improvisation.
The prefrontal cortex was characterized by a deactivation during improvisation, sensorimotor activity in the sensory cortex area were mostly activated, and a widespread deactivation of the limbic and paralimbic region during improvisation. These deactivation of limbic and paralimbic regions were seen in the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus and other structures of this region.
The changes in the prefrontal cortex consisted of a deactivation in the lateral parts and activation in the medial parts of the prefrontal cortex. The medial part is thought to play a role in the complex phenomenon of the self, internally motivated self generated content and as such this activation can be explained by the fact that improvisation is also a way of expressing one’s own musical voice or story. The deactivation of the lateral part is explained by the occurrence of free floating attention, permitting spontaneous expressions without interference of self-monitoring.