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By Heart An fMRI Study of Brain Activation by Poetry and Prose

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The experience of reading varies markedly between differing texts which may be, for example, primarily informative, musical, or moving.We asked whether these differences would correspond to widespread contrasts in brain activity. Using fMRI, we examined brain activation in expert participants reading passages of prose and poetry. Both prose and poetry activated previously identified reading areas. Their emotional power was related to activity in regions linked to the emotional response to music. 'Literariness'was related to activity in a predominantly left-sided set of regions. Self-selected poetry activated the classical reading areas weakly, the inferior parietal lobes strongly, probably because these passages were known 'by heart'. Experimenter- chosen poetry activated brain regions that have recently been associated with introspection. The experience of reading contrasting texts is associated with differing patterns of brain activation, the emotional response to literature shares ground with the response to music, and regions of the right hemisphere are engaged by poetry.

Keywords: emotion; fMRI; literature; memory; poetry; prose

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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