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The Role of Hyperconnectivity in Creative Perception and Cognition

Principal Investigator:

Psyche Loui, Ph.D., Instructor in Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School

Artists, composers, and highly creative individuals know that "talent" often requires sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the perceptual world. This perceptual sensitivity is subserved by connectivity in the human brain, which is crucial for enhancing, facilitating, and regulating neural computations. Although structural and functional neuroimaging have given us a large body of knowledge concerning connectivity in the human brain, how connectivity might subserve exceptional creativity and perceptual ability is yet to be understood. Here we propose to combine visual, auditory, and cognitive testing, perceptual training, and structural and functional neuroimaging for a thorough investigation of how hyperconnectivity gives rise to creative perception and cognition. We will compare AP musicians and tone-color synesthetes against matched controls. In addition, we will train non-synesthete subjects to have tone-color synesthetic experiences by systematically pairing artificial tones with colors, and correlate training success with connectivity measures in diffusion tensor imaging. We expect that AP and synesthete subjects will show heightened connectivity in multiple brain regions. AP subjects will show larger volume in tracts connecting auditory perception and association areas, whereas synesthete subjects will show larger tract volumes between auditory and visual-association areas. Finally, individuals who are superior at learning associations between tones and colors will possess similar trends of hyperconnectivity in auditory and visual-association areas. Results will identify white matter pathways that are hyperconnected in people with exceptional perceptual and cognitive abilities, and will enhance our understanding of the neural basis of talent and creativity.


Psyche Loui received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in 2007 and her B.S. in Psychology from Duke University in 2003. She is currently Instructor in Neurology at the Harvard Medical School, with a hospital appointment in the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), where she works in the Music, Neuroimaging, and Stroke Recovery Laboratories directed by Dr. Schlaug. Her research aims to understand the network of brain functions that enable subjective experiences such as the perception, cognition, and production of music. Ongoing projects tackle problems in auditory perception, auditory-motor interaction, and emotion and cognition, using tools from psychophysics and cognitive neuroscience as appropriate. Dr. Loui is a recipient of a Young Investigator Award from the European Society for Cognition of Music, and has several publications in high-impact journals. She is collaborator on an international project on interdisciplinary research in singing (PI: Annabel Cohen), co-investigator on an R01 from NIH (NIDCD) on neural control of voice perception and production (PI: Gottfried Schlaug), and principal investigator on a grant from the Grammy Foundation on tone-deafness.

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