Thursday, September 20, 2012

Slightly OT: Your Brain Loves Jane Austen

From Your brain loves Jane Austen: An English professor measures the brain activity of readers, and finds we respond differently when reading for fun by Laura Miller:

What have you found out so far about pleasure reading and close reading?

In the neuroscience world, it’s been more common to change what the subject is reading about (if they’re reading anything of length, which has also been rare). They thought that if you asked people to read the same thing in two different ways, you might just see nothing. They’re still just reading a chapter from Jane Austen, so why would this change the brain patterns?

I was really surprised and shocked, in a delighted way, by how much of a difference we’ve been seeing between pleasure and close reading. It was not what we expected.

In what way?

We’re really just processing the data right now, as we speak. One of the things that we saw in the pilot is that it’s not just that close reading is a more advanced form of pleasure reading. Pleasure reading also has distinct regions where it has more blood flow. They have two distinct “neurosignatures,” a term which describes complex patterns of brain activity that cross multiple regions of the brain. Pleasure reading has its own demands and close reading has its own pleasures. The value resides in being able to shift between modes. It’s a training in cognitive flexibility.

Really the biggest surprise to date is just how much the brain is shifting in moving between close reading and pleasure reading. Most people would expect to see pleasure centers activating with the more relaxed style of reading, and the regions associated with work, attention and cognitive load for the literary analysis. But what we’re finding is something else entirely. With pleasure reading, at least in the one subject for whom we have been able to fully evaluate it so far, we did see unique regions activated. That suggests that pleasure reading is not just some more lax or dormant state. And we’re seeing the whole brain activating for the close reading state.

I've wondered about this and would love to see my brain reading pleasure vs. work. I read all day and process texts and what do I do to take a break? Go read something for pleasure.

And who knew Mansfield Park was the least read of Austen's texts?

1 comment:

  1. I loved Mansfield Park myself. haha

    But very interesting study. I would admit that I thought the brain was more lax and whatnot during pleasure reading. However, it makes a lot of sense that we use more of the brain when pleasure reading, because we pay more attention (I feel) and think more about it. Hope to hear more about this!