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Science Proves Artists Are Wired Differently

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Study Answers Nature or Nurture Argument

artists brain pathways

A scientific study has been conducted that compares the grey matter and white matter found in the brains of artist students and non-art students.

The scans show that the art students’ brains had more neural matter in regions that are associated with fine motor movement and visual imagery. That should not really be a surprise. Wouldn’t we expect that an artist be more visual and have good hand to eye coordination?

The question has long been whether or not artists are actually born this way (the “nature” theory) or if training and interest cause the differences (“nurture”.) This research suggests those who ascribe to the nature theory may be right.

Before you get too excited, or concerned, that your child might not have the right genetic/brain structure, the authors of the study do maintain that both training and the environment a person is raised in play a major part.

OK, so maybe the argument has not been resolved after all.

Lead author Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium, said she was interested in finding out how artists saw the world differently.

“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,” she explained.

“Procedural memory”…what is that? Apparently it is the ability to perform tasks over and over. That makes sense, think of all the pencil marks or brush strokes an artist must make in order to create a finished piece.

Fine artists are not the only ones who appear to have comparatively more grey matter in their brains. Musicians and other creative types have also been found to have a higher percentage of grey matter.

According to Dr. Chamberlain:

“It falls into line with evidence that focus of expertise really does change the brain. The brain is incredibly flexible in response to training and there are huge individual differences that we are only beginning to tap into.”

Other authors of the study point out that the sample size was small and therefore they would like to expand the study. Additionally, it would be interesting to be able to scan the brains of people younger than University age to help ascertain if the grey-white matter balance changes as they gain skill, or if the percentage remains roughly the same from an early age.

Following up with these studies would go much further to resolving the nature vs nurture argument.

As a footnote, it was observed that the grey matter was greater on both the right and left sides of the brain in the art students.

So much for the artists being “right brained” theory!


Thanks to for this article. Read the full text here.

If you want more information on the study, check it out here.
Brain Scan image courtesy of SPL

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