Tuesday, October 09, 2012

This is your brain on Jane Austen.

No time for a real post, but this story from NPR is some food for thought. A researcher who noticed that she could get so absorbed in a book that "the house could burn down" around her wondered whether the brain processed information differently with this kind of absorbed reading instead of casual reading (with Twitter, cell phone, internet, Facebook leaping into the reader's consciousness every few minutes). She teamed up with neuroscientists to test her hypothesis, and guess what she found?

"Everyone told me to expect these really, really minute and subtle effects," she said, "because everyone was going to be doing the same thing, right? Reading Jane Austen. And they were just going to be doing it in two different ways."

Phillips said she mainly expected to see differences in parts of the brain that regulate attention because that was the main difference between casual and focused reading.

But in a neuroscientific plot twist, Phillips said preliminary results showed otherwise: "What's been taking us by surprise in our early data analysis is how much the whole brain — global activations across a number of different regions — seems to be transforming and shifting between the pleasure and the close reading." 
Phillips found that close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.
So the next time you hear about multitasking while reading being just the same as reading deeply, you can say, with authority, "No. No, it's not."  Jane Austen will thank you for it.


jo(e) said...

I've always thought deep reading was like meditation. Whereas twitter, facebook, etc. seems more like conversation at a cocktail party.

Historiann said...

Fascinating. Thanks! Maybe we can use this in our fight to protect F2F courses, as close reading is really important for the quality of class discussions, in my experience.

Tonya Krouse said...

We are heading into the "literary studies" unit of the Intro to English Studies class next week. Yes, we will be talking about this. Thank you!

undine said...

jo(e): that's a great distinction! And to push the cocktail conversation idea further: You can read all those conversations on twitter and fb, but they're like canapes and not a meal.

Historiann--agreed! And the other part is that sometimes you have to read sections of the book out loud to facilitate that close reading in the classroom.

Tonya--glad it helped! I was fascinated to hear about it, too.