Literary Neuroscience

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park +fMRI machine =

Justification for English majors?

Critical reading increases capacity for complex functions.Reading Critically does more for you than just inform it may increase your capacity for more complex activities.

Anecdotal evidence points to heightened attention from critical textual analysis – the kind you do in a literature class – when compared to casual reading.

In a study coordinated between Stanford University’s Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging and Literary Researcher Natalie Phillips, participants were asked to switch between casual reading and critical reading modes  while they were monitored with fMRI. Researchers observed a significant shift in brain activity patterns as the PhD students went from casual to critical modes. Critical reading increased bloodflow across the brain in general, and specifically to the prefrontal cortex.


The prefrontal cortex is known to play a role in executive function, which refers
to a set of higher-order cognitive processes that manage how you divide
your attention and coordinate complex activities.

Lit Majors rejoice!

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