Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Poetry 'affects brain like music'

Scientists have found that poetry and passionate prose have an effect on the brain similar to that of emotional music

Poetry and passionate prose have an effect on the brain similar to that of emotional music, research has shown.

Scientists made the discovery when they scanned the brains of volunteers as they read.

All written material produced activity in a "reading network" of brain areas, the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans revealed.

But emotionally charged writing aroused several brain regions that normally respond to music.

Mostly on the brain's right side, these regions have previously been shown to produce the "shivers down the spine" reaction to moving melodies.

When volunteers delved into a favourite passage of poetry, parts of the brain associated with memory were also strongly stimulated.

In addition, poetry - as distinct from prose - activated brain areas linked to introspection.

Lead scientist Professor Adam Zeman, from the University of Exeter, said: "Some people say it is impossible to reconcile science and art, but new brain imaging technology means we are now seeing a growing body of evidence about how the brain responds to the experience of art.

"This was a preliminary study, but it is all part of work that is helping us to make psychological, biological and anatomical sense of art."

The research, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, involved 13 university graduates studying English.

Their brain activity was scanned while reading an extract from a heating installation manual, evocative passages from novels, easy and difficult sonnets, and their favourite poetry.

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