Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reading Jane Austen Stimulates the Brain

You guys totally knew this, right? Of course, reading Jane Austen stimulates the brain. How could it not? Take wit, erudition, laughter, high emotion, lovable characters, happily ever afters, pointed social commentary, and DRAMA; shake it up; apply Austen's prose skills; et voilĂ —an enduring masterpiece.

Natalie Phillips, an assistant professor of English at Michigan State University, is studying how reading Jane Austen's work affects the brain in a study at Stanford University.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "[Phillips] places volunteers inside an MRI scanner, hooks them up to eye-tracking equipment and asks them to read—on a mirror above them—the second chapter of Mansfield Park." In order to test her hypothesis, she needed a a work of fiction that worked as both a beach book and a critical literary work, and Mansfield Park fit the bill.

"The impact on the brain was far more extensive than she had expected. When the students engaged in critical reading, there was a notable expansion of activity in regions of the brain outside those responsible for executive function, which are normally used for paying close attention to a task like reading. Significantly, there was activity in areas associated with physical activity and movement, parts of the brain we use to place ourselves spatially in the world, as though the readers were actually physically present in the story. Concentrated, close reading activated unbelievably widespread parts of the brain that are immensely cognitively complex, on a par with doing hard math problems or working through computer code."

Please visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for more details.

193 years later, Jane Austen still rules!