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MRIs Determine Literary Criticism

April 16, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Taking part in a budding branch of science, twelve university students will soon get MRI scans after reading various types of literature or other publications. Known as “neuro lit crit,” the cross-discipline “science of reading” is attempting to research certain mental processes and to develop ways to improve students’ reading skills, as described in an article from The Observer by Paul Harris and Allison Flood.

The dozen to be scanned are a segment of the Yale-Haskins Teagle Collegium, led by Michael Holquist, literature professor at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. His team includes other literature professors and scientists who have formulated a list of texts of varying complexity that should provide a range of neurological responses in their subjects. They have chosen reading material “on the assumption that the brain reacts differently to great literature than to a newspaper or a Harry Potter book,” Harris and Flood wrote.

Until recently, most literary research has been focused within the humanities. Academics and critics looked for aspects relating to philosophy, politics, sociology, history, economic effects, social environmental factors or gender viewpoint. But now chemistry and biology are becoming important adjuncts to these pursuits, and people from these fields are assisting in discovering the roles that science plays, not only in the reading and understanding of fiction, but in its creation as well. Other colleges and universities are also grafting neuro lit crit into their spectrum of studies.

From one of those groups, Professor Richard Wise, an Imperial College London neuroscientist said, “Reading is a very hard wired thing in our brains. There are brain cells that respond to reading, and we can study them.”

“Literature…has its roots in what it does to our brains or even what genes might be involved,” the article authors wrote. “Lighting up the right [neurons] is every bit as important as a keen moral insight or a societal context.”

Blakey Vermeule, an English professor at Stanford University in California said, “[Neuro lit crit] is one of the most exciting developments in intellectual life.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review


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