You might be guilty of categorizing artists as "right-brained" thinkers who lean on that particular hemisphere of the brain for creativity. But a new study published last month claims overall brain "structure" is a better distinguishing factor between artists and their non-artist counterparts.
“Drawing on the right side of the brain: A voxel-based morphometry analysis of observational drawing” asserts that artists may have increased neural matter in the parts of their brains that deal with visual perception, spatial navigation and fine motor skills. The increased amounts of grey and white matter occur on both sides of the brain, a fact that could help put to rest the idea of a right/left brain distinction being linked to creativity.
The rather small study, published in NeuroImage, is based on the brain scans and drawing performances of 21 art students (graduates and undergraduates attending art and design courses in London at Camberwell College of Art and The Royal College of Art) and 23 non-artists. The scan findings also showed that those who identified as artists -- as well as those who performed better on the drawing tests -- tended to have more grey matter in the parietal lobe, a region involved with spatial orientation and cognition.
"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," Rebecca Chamberlain, the study's lead author from KU Leuven University in Belgium, explained to BBC.
If you're thinking these results hint at the idea that artistic talent is an innate ability, you'd be wrong. "The balance between the influence of nature and nurture is never easy to divine," James Vincent of The Independent writes, "and the authors say that training and upbringing also plays a large role in [artistic] ability."
In order to surmise the definitive role brain structure plays in artistic abilities, researchers would need to conduct a series of larger studies. But Chamberlain's findings do come in the wake of a number of other research projects shedding light on the nature of creativity in the brain.