Researchers 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.