May 15 2017
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This is your brain on poetry

New York Magazine published an article on May 11 titled, “This is what happens to your brain when you read poetry,” and it’s fascinating.

Writer Cody Delistraty breaks down the findings of a recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics which concludes that people probably experience poetry in a different way than they do other art.

Researchers were looking for evidence that participants felt a “chill” while listening to poetry read out loud to them. They measured this chill via scans of their “heart rate, facial expressions, and — via the incredibly named ‘goosecam’ — the movement of their skin and arm hairs.” Participants pressed a button when they felt these chills.

The results: Every person claimed to have felt chills at some point during the process, and about 40 percent showed visible goose bumps — a percentage that lines up with the responses most people have when listening to music and film soundtracks or watching emotional scenes in movies. Their neurological responses, however, seemed to be unique to poetry: Scans taken during the study showed that listening to the poems activated parts of participants’ brains that, as other studies have shown, are not activated when listening to music or watching films.

Even more interesting is the conclusion that people come to anticipate a poem’s moments of high emotion, or what the researchers called “pre-chill”: “…77 percent of participants who had never heard a certain poem before still showed neurological signs of anticipating its points of emotional arousal.”

How cool is that?