The Science is in: Get Out of Your Dorsolateral Prefontal Cortex

Written by Anthony Meindl

You want to access your potential? You want to be a great artist? You want to tap into your creative genius? You want to book a job?

It’s simple. Get out of your head.

Again and again and again.

In the New York Times bestselling book, Imagine, a Johns Hopkins University Neuroscientist, Charles Limb, is interviewed for the research he’s been doing with jazz musicians and the activity of their brains when they improv.

In what I refer to in acting as a “let go,” or a “surrender to the moment,” Mr. Limb also found in musicians that there’s an explosion of energy in the medial prefrontal cortex – an area in the front of the brain associated with self-expression.

Limb refers to this area as the “center of autobiography” – which suggests that when a jazz musician improvs, he or she is actually playing notes that reflect his or her own personal style.

As actors, when you do what you do in the moment, you’re imprinting your style, your personality, your instinct, your self onto the form or structure through which you are creating. In acting, this would be a scene. In jazz, it would be the musical line.

Academy Award-winning actress, Tilda Swinton, says acting is, “All her,” and it’s, “All autobiography.”

Do you see a pattern here?

During the brain research, as the musicians began to riff in the moment, there was also a dramatic shift in the brain’s nearby circuit – known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – which is most closely related to impulse control.

It’s your inner censor that keeps you from acting out on impulses. “I can’t do that!” “That would look stupid!”

But what was amazing about the study was that before a single note was played in the improv, each pianist exhibited a deactivation of the DLPFC.

That’s right. The brain silenced that circuit. Your censor can shut up!

But it takes practice. It involves lots and lots of training to develop that muscle that can overpower the inner critic.

When people come to audit a class, they often ask me why I don’t let actors memorize.
I discovered something years ago when I first started training artists that memorization actually inhibited the accessing of their intuitive, creative impulses.

And now, again, the science proves this.

In the brain study, when jazz musicians played a memorized tune – guess what? The DLPFC remained active. In other words, the censor was alive and kicking, keeping the musicians (and actors) from being freely, wildly, dangerously expressed.

That’s not to say you won’t memorize pieces. That’s not to say musicians won’t play memorized tunes. You will, but from a new vantage point. One without a censor.

The implications of these studies shows that we can access our creative potential by working a methodology that scientifically and artistically creates a new muscle to supplant the inner critic.

Get out of your head. Get into your body. Lose your mind. Regain your senses.

So, when it comes to creating, say goodbye to your DLPFC! Let go in the moment and turn that censor off.


Anthony Meindl
is an award-winning writer, producer, director and actor whose first feature screenplay, THE WONDER GIRLS, was the Grand Prize Winning Feature Screenplay in the Slamdance Film Festival Screenplay Competition in 2007. Prior to this accomplishment, Meindl was responsible for the production of an array of award-winning projects. His background in acting, training, and performance has afforded him the opportunity to create what has become a thriving artist community in Los Angeles.

Check out Anthony’s book, At Left Brain, Right Turn

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