UCI Brain is an academic initiative that fosters interdisciplinary interactions about our understanding of the brain. During the UCI Brain launch event in November 2019, the Claire Trevor School of the Arts participated in a demonstration to help illuminate one of the initiative’s cross-cutting themes centered on the arts entitled, The Artistic Brain.
Before I tell you how The Artistic Brain empowered students with technology to measure brain activity while performing, let me give you a brief history.
In the Fall of 2017, the UCI Drama department offered a Science of Acting class. World-class brain scientists sat with actors and discussed thoughts, emotions, language, and the influence of memory on behavior. The actors found the scientific perspective empowering and even “life-altering.”
In the Fall of 2018 UCI brain scientists and Hollywood creatives collaborated on hosting a public event, Why Our Brains Love Story. The event was co-sponsored by UCI Illuminations, the Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative. Based on the techniques learned, the audience brainstormed a story situation to generate a framework for a one-act play. A drama student was then coached over a couple of months using a brain-based approach to story creation resulting in the first-ever one act play of its kind. The play, titled “Soles” will be performed in the spring of 2020.
During the summer of 2019, renowned neuroeconomist Paul Zak entered the collaboration and generously granted UCI the use of his neuro-immersion platform. This technology uses a wearable sensor that infers the brain’s attentional and emotional responses from the peripheral nerves. Zak’s team call the neural state in which one is attentive and emotionally absorbed in the experience, “immersion.” Immersion values fluctuate between 1 and 10 and change, with the level of immersion giving us insight into how valuable the experience is to the brain. While the commercial uses are numerous, the technology provides Arts students the rare opportunity to measure an audience’s, as well as their own physiological response to a performance or while rehearsing an art form.
In the Fall of 2019, six UCI Arts students signed up for an independent study that would incorporate the neuro-immersion technology in a weekly lab. The artists were instructed on simple models of brain function and given direct access to brain scientists to answer their questions. Each student was tasked to choose an aspect of their craft to explore and measure. They would present the results of their exploration at the launch event for UCI Brain and The Artistic Brain theme.
So, … two dancers, two musicians, an actor, and a visual artist walked into a science lab. What did they learn?
Here are the explorations the students designed and presented to a rapt audience during the UCI Brain Launch event on Nov. 21, 2019.