Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists, a study has found.

Participants’ brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery.

The research,  published In NeuroImage, suggests that an artist’s talent could be innate.

But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors report.

As in many areas of science, the exact interplay of nature and nurture remains unclear.

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.

In their small study, researchers peered into the brains of 21 art students and compared them to 23 non-artists using a scanning method called voxel-based morphometry.

Detail of 'Giant Lobster' from NHM specimen collectionOne artist who has practised for many years is Alice Shirley – here is a detail of her Giant Lobster

These detailed scans revealed that the artist group had significantly more grey matter in an area of the brain called the precuneus in the parietal lobe.

“This region is involved in a range of functions but potentially in things that could be linked to creativity, like visual imagery – being able to manipulate visual images in your brain, combine them and deconstruct them.

Those better at drawing had increased grey and white matter in the cerebellum and also in the supplementary motor area – both areas that are involved with fine motor control and performance of routine actions.

Grey matter is largely composed of nerve cells, while white matter is responsible for communication between the grey matter regions.

But it is still not clear what this increase of neural matter might mean. From looking at related studies of other creative people, such as musicians, it suggests that these individuals have enhanced processing in these areas, Dr Chamberlain added.

“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.”

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  1. hi Elizabeth, very very interesting . always knew this intuitively. I fortunately had a mother who supported my uniqeness. I have learned to spot this ability in children that I teach.
    nice to know research supports this.

    I have quite a few stories attesting to this difference.

    would share.
    please visit my website

    1. Thank you Johanna for your comment. I agree that this can be spotted intuitively, I’m just surprised that it took so long for the scientists to test for this.

      I’d be happy to visit your website as soon as possible.



  2. Heather Tetley
    Senior Conservator & Owner, The Tetley Workshop-Carpet Conservation

    Thank you Elizabeth, I agree with your comment that it is surprising how long it has taken science to realise the different areas of the brain developed by artists, or that those differences develop an artist. I’m a bit bewildered by the comment that this may or may not also apply to musicians etc.

    On another tack, the idea that we are all artists and that anything goes & that there us no criterion for good or bad, seems to be contradicted by this research, hurrah! .. I looked at Johanna Okovic’s website with interest, thank you Johanna, your comments there about meditation seemed particularly relevant. I found as I looked at the photos of your work, that I was drawn into a Beta state.. More areas for research I suspect..

    Why and what and how are we affected by art? I came to the conclusion some years ago that the important thing about art, is that the work carries the state & level of being & consciousness of the artist.. As artists, we are dealing with the language of symbolism, which is on a different level than non poetic words? So maybe the looker at art, needs to learn to develop yet other areas of their brain to be sensitive to the inner & to carry that with them.

    1. Thank you Heather for posting this comment. Of course this would also apply to musicians,that was a silly comment. This article is a tad behind the times but I thought that most would enjoy an entry into brain science and research and art.

      You are absolutely correct about the symbolism situation however a lot of it also has to do with how our brains are hardwired to respond to math,respond to differences in perception and what catches our attention, which all the great masters used, especially Durerm who took advantage of this technique to its heights. Golden means and ratios are extremely important to what the human brain will pay attention.

      The science on this brain chemistry has been available for decades, but our attention spans have become so short because of how many utilize the internet, the connection between art and science is rarely explored or reported and most are more interested in fashion. 🙂

      Thank you,


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