Poetry News

Bustle on Why Brains Love Poetry

By Harriet Staff


Not only is reading poetry good for your brain, as Bustle reports, but it appears that our brains are in fact "wired" to enjoy poetry whether or not we understand the verse. "Groundbreaking research from the University of Exeter in 2013 revealed something pretty spectacular: there are major commonalities between the way our brains process music and how they process poetry." Let's pick up there:

I've talked about the musical brain before, particularly the ways in which music creates serious emotional response by triggering activity in the brain's emotional centers. And that property, it seems, isn't restricted to music — it's also found in emotional writing, particularly poetry.

The 2013 study was a small one with a limited number of subjects: 13 people, all with degrees in English Literature or professorships at Exeter. (This means that the results may not reflect innate responses in the brain, but "trained" activity that comes as a result of a lot of exposure to poetry and fluency in its meanings and emotional vocabulary.) Given MRIs while they read a variety of texts, from bland rulebooks to fictional prose to familiar and unfamiliar poetry, their brains exhibited some intriguing things.

One was that they showed strong emotional responses to poetry that they had self-selected as meaningful, activating the same parts of the brain that well-loved music does. And their brains didn't demonstrate that response when exposed to any other type of writing.

The brains in this study also showed a particular response to poetry that was tied to the brain "at rest," when it contemplates the past and daydreams — the actions of introspection, in other words. This means that reading poetry also provides space for self-reflection.

Why this is remains open for interpretation. Do we respond to poetry in particular ways because it's more emotionally intense, or because we have an innate human response to rhythms and sound? Is the idea of poetry as a space for deep thinking culturally created, or just part of how we respond naturally? It's all very intriguing.

Continue at Bustle.

Originally Published: April 21st, 2017
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