Thursday, May 23, 2013

Caricaturist brain at work (or...check out the big brain on Emily!)

Recently, I had an fMRI---for the sole purpose of scientific research into creativity:
To be more specific, at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Dr. Charles Limb currently is in charge of a study on what parts of the brain are firing up as caricaturists draw. (His last study was on jazz musicians!) While lying in the tight confines of an MRI machine, I did what I do almost every day---looked at people and caricatured them!
 I was given a small pamphlet of close-up photos of various faces (all with neutral expressions---so that I wouldn't be reacting to any perceived emotion, which is a whole other phenomenon). The photo was on the left, a blank page was on the right. The drawing implement was....a golf pencil! The booklet rested on a small board on my lap, and I wore headgear with mirrors so I could see my hands (an MRI requires the subject to lie flat and not move the head.) 
A weird environment, to be sure, especially with all the clanking, buzzing noises made by the machine, but once I was drawing, I forgot about it. 
Each drawing had a time limit of under one minute, so it was really only a very basic gist of a caricature. They also asked for likenesses, not exaggerated, for comparison, as well as just to look at faces but draw nothing. 
My friend and colleague Sean Gardner was game for an MRI as well, and I was able to be in the control room as his took place:
About to be put to the magnet! The researchers used an audio tone to cue us to turn the page for each drawing, and Sean remarked that it sounded like "Tron racquetball"---they loved that metaphor!
 All we could see on the monitor was the back of the clipboard and his knees as he drew.
 How crazy it was to see Sean's profile and the innards of his entire skull!!!!! When I saw my own (top photo) it seemed beyond surreal-- and I immediately knew that my son is walking around with the shape of my cranium!
Above: More of Sean's brain during the procedure. It's going to be hard to wait for the results, which are probably a year or more in the future.
We made sure Dr. Limb was okay with us sharing our experiences at Hopkins on social media, and his response was "no problem!" It's the data and conclusions from this research that are proprietary until published in scientific/medical journals. Or on social media!

If you have sixteen minutes to spare, that link above to Dr. Limb's previous experiment is reaaaallly interesting.

Finally, the MRI technician had a caricature of herself (she said it  was done at a party many years ago, the signature said 'Laura') hanging in the control room... so she was a fan of our artform! :-)

1 comment:

  1. Love this story! How generous of you to participate. (Also funny about George's head!)

    (this is Dianne from FB)