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Old 01-13-2013, 11:16 PM   #1
Lynx-lynx
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Some authors 'turbo-boost' the brain

Reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

'PUT down those self-help books, ditch the trashy novels and read the greatest writers in the English language if you need a lift. The works of Shakespeare and Wordsworth are ''rocket-boosters'' to the brain and better therapy than self-improvement guides, researchers have discovered..................

............ The research also found that poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with ''autobiographical memory'', helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read. The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.

.............. Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain. The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan 2013
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Old 01-13-2013, 11:18 PM   #2
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Not sure if the study included the reading of philosophy, but that's at least one other genre that causes the reader to 'reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read'.

But we all knew that reading boosts the brain anyway ......
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Old 01-14-2013, 05:51 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lynx-lynx View Post
Reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

'PUT down those self-help books, ditch the trashy novels and read the greatest writers in the English language if you need a lift. The works of Shakespeare and Wordsworth are ''rocket-boosters'' to the brain and better therapy than self-improvement guides, researchers have discovered..................

............ The research also found that poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with ''autobiographical memory'', helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read. The academics said this meant the classics were more useful than self-help books.

.............. Serious literature acts like a rocket-booster to the brain. The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Jan 2013
Excellent! Thank you for this! I feel better already!
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Old 01-14-2013, 09:37 AM   #4
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"Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and others. They then ''translated'' the texts into more ''straightforward'', modern language and again monitored the readers' brains as they read the words. Scans showed that the more ''challenging'' prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain."

Doesn't mean it's good or beneficial activity. Just means that their brains need to spend more time translating rather than actually absorbing (or, gods forbid, *enjoying*!) what's being read.

"Philip Davis, an English professor who has worked on the study with the university's magnetic resonance centre"

Gee. A study done by an English professor that states that the stuff he and his department teaches is better for your brain. Who'd've thunk it, eh?
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Old 01-14-2013, 09:49 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by JD Gumby View Post
..

Doesn't mean it's good or beneficial activity. Just means that their brains need to spend more time translating rather than actually absorbing (or, gods forbid, *enjoying*!) what's being read.
....
Gee. A study done by an English professor that states that the stuff he and his department teaches is better for your brain. Who'd've thunk it, eh?
Good points!

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Old 01-14-2013, 03:26 PM   #6
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I agree, there's not enough evidence shown in this article to warrant the conclusion. That the brain had to work harder to process the text doesn't necessarily mean that you got more out of the text. I'd like to see brain scans of people reading Shakespeare, but in two groups. Group A hasn't read any Shakespeare, while Group B are experienced Shakespeare readers. The readers in Group A are going to have a much harder time with the text. I'd expect their brains to work much harder to understand the text than will those of Group B. But who is going to get more out of the text? Probably Group B, even though Group B's brains didn't have to work nearly as hard.

I suppose we could scan people's brains when they read The Eye of Argon, the brain has to work pretty hard to make sense out of that. Yet I have a hard time believing that the difficulty of reading a bad text makes me smarter just because my brain worked harder. What Shakespeare and The Eye of Argon have in common is that it is difficult to decode the text. Obviously, the content of Shakespeare is deeper than The Eye of Argon.

The article isn't just saying that reading Shakespeare makes you smarter, but that it better at making you smarter than reading "trashy" novels. I suspect that the people who did this study would lump science fiction in the trashy category, yet science fiction does as a lot of profound questions. Of course, not all science fiction is profound, but not all Elizabethan writing is profound either.

There's a question of how much benefit you get out of decoding the text versus reading the content itself. If the benefit comes from how difficult decoding the text is, then it would seem that to get this benefit, readers of Shakespeare should read something that they are unfamiliar with, as the brain has to work harder to process the unfamiliar. I'm open to the idea, but simply measuring how hard the brain works isn't enough. They need to come up some way to test the hypothesis.
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Old 01-14-2013, 03:32 PM   #7
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Guess it depends on you interpret the meaning of 'turbo-boost.'

Still it is interesting research IMO.
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Old 01-14-2013, 03:48 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JD Gumby View Post
"Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and others. They then ''translated'' the texts into more ''straightforward'', modern language and again monitored the readers' brains as they read the words. Scans showed that the more ''challenging'' prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain."

Doesn't mean it's good or beneficial activity. Just means that their brains need to spend more time translating rather than actually absorbing (or, gods forbid, *enjoying*!) what's being read.
So the conclusion is: "Reading hard stuff is hard"
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Old 01-14-2013, 03:50 PM   #9
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So the conclusion is: "Reading hard stuff is hard"
and is probably good for you.
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Old 01-14-2013, 04:06 PM   #10
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As the language evolves, reading Shakespeare becomes more and more difficult, because it differs more and more from the language as presently used. People of Shakespeare's time would have found it far less difficult than people of today do. Does this mean that it turbo-charges the brain more today than it did in Shakespeare's day?
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Old 01-14-2013, 04:30 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by JD Gumby View Post
Doesn't mean it's good or beneficial activity. Just means that their brains need to spend more time translating rather than actually absorbing (or, gods forbid, *enjoying*!) what's being read.
Questionable assumptions to make about the nature of reading:

1. That, if the text is rich and intricate, the brain is necessarily "spending time translating rather than absorbing" it (the way one "translates" rather than "absorbs" the detail of an intricate painting?).

2. That savoring the intricacies and elisions in such a text has nothing to do with enjoyment.

Dense poetry is like a rich dessert for many readers.

If it isn't for you, that's fine. But why dismiss all poetry which you, personally, don't like to read as unstimulating and unenjoyable for everyone else?

Part of the allure of becoming a starving poet is to feel more alive, more conscious in the process of writing, and to share that heightened sense of awareness through language. Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins weren't in it for the money because the act of writing itself was what engaged them. Their sort of writing didn't have an audience in those days, but that doesn't mean their poetry is pointlessly difficult or pretentious.

Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 01-14-2013 at 04:41 PM.
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Old 01-14-2013, 04:38 PM   #12
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...
Part of the allure of becoming a starving poet is to feel more alive, more conscious in the process of writing, and to share that heightened sense of awareness through language. Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins weren't in it for the money.
Woo-Hoo! I'm starvin'! I'm starvin'!

I appreciate your comment as I agree muchly. Poetry for me is very much about sharing experiences, emotions, events, life. Now that certainly doesn't mean that is what is being measured in the above research but it appears (thought it's hard to tell is such an abbreviated article) that part of the study was some type of evaluation of what the reader was getting from the reading, not just a measurement of neuronal firing.
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Old 01-14-2013, 05:17 PM   #13
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Whilst I can appreciate that the study tested certain texts/authors and results against those have been ascertained, I can't hold too great a regard for it until the breadth of inclusions has been detailed.

So - were only great literary works and their modern translations tested, or were some of the other great thinkers included, like Sophocles or Aristotle etc.

Or Moliere or Sartre or Camus.

Also, if this study shows that more brain power is required when 'translating' the piece being read, then surely reading/learning another language would do the same thing.

Or even reading in a genre that one is not familiar with, and therefore having to acquire perspective and familiarity.

Anyone tried reading management texts .... good grief they're a language all to their own (and mostly bullo imo)

The editorial indicates that the goodly Professor Davis will be speaking at a Conference this week, so perhaps more of the study/research will be revealed.
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Old 01-14-2013, 06:07 PM   #14
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Another aspect to testing I'd like to know if the researchers tested/considered was the emotional impact that the reading had, what effect did reading a funny or sad or irritating piece have on the brain.

Because it seems that if a piece of writing evokes emotions then a certain 'translation' must be taking place.

BTW I can get pretty darn angry when reading history, to the point I just have to walk away from the text for a bit because it gets me so mad!!!

Yep, reading about the decision making of others and knowing how those decisions of 100 plus years ago have panned out in the current day gets me really really going, lol!!

So can't reading history have the same 'rocket-booster' effect on the brain?
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Old 01-14-2013, 06:21 PM   #15
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Here's a potential test of the hypothesis:

Take the two groups, the group which read Shakespeare and the group which read the simplified Shakespeare. Then have each group read some other book that is unlike Shakespeare - something contemporary. Test each group on their understanding of this book. If the first group's brain was really turbo-charged, then perhaps they would show a greater understanding of the book than would the second group.

Language is a code, so we must decode the text to understand it. As a very simple example, "tree" is a code for that big woody thing in the back yard. The more complex the writing is, the more mental effort it is to decode it. But that's only part of understanding the text. A text can be complex yet shallow, or be simple but deep. Some paintings are easy to understand, some are difficult to understand. But that doesn't mean the more complex painting is better than the simpler one. Some of the most beloved paintings can be understood by everyone and there are highly complex paintings that languish in attics.
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