This Is Your Brain On Poetry

poetryResearchers at the University of Exeter have been bridging the gap between art and science by mapping the different ways in which the brain responds to poetry and prose. The team used state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to visual how the brain activates certain regions to process various activities.

Before this study, no one had specifically examined the brain’s differing responses to poetry and prose. The results, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, revealed activity within a “reading network” of brain regions that were activated in response to any written material.

The researchers found that when study participants read one of their favorite passages of poetry, regions of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than “reading areas.” This suggests that reading a favorite passage is like a recollection. When the team specifically compared poetry to prose, they found evidence that poetry activates brain regions associated with introspection – such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.

Why do we have brains?

Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert starts from a surprising premise: the brain evolved, not to think or feel, but to control movement. In this entertaining, data-rich talk he gives us a glimpse into how the brain creates the grace and agility of human motion.

Opening a window into the movies in our minds

In research, that brings to mind the movie Minority Report, a group of neuroscientists have found a way to see through another person’s eyes.

By reconstructing YouTube videos from viewers’ brain activity, researchers from UC Berkeley, have, in the words of Professor Jack Gallant, opened ” a window into the movies in our minds.”

Gallant’s coauthors of the study,  published in Current Biology, watched YouTube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine for several hours at a time. The team then used the brain imaging data to develop a computer model that matched features of the videos — like colors, shapes and movements — with patterns of brain activity. Subtle changes in blood flow to visual areas of the brain, measured by functional MRI, predicted what was on the screen at the time.

Lead author, Shinji Nishimoto, said the results of the study shed light on how the brain understands and processes visual experiences. The next line of research is to investigate if the technology could one day allow people who are paralyzed to control their environment by imagining sequences of movements.