The Neuroscience of Fiction

Neuroscientists have embarked on a project designed to map our literary circuitry. We’re all familiar with the dictum, we read to feel less alone, but will scientists prove that we actually read to replicate the feelings of the author?

From “Wired: Putting a Writer and Readers to the Test,” The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2013:

Over the past two weeks, [Dutch author Arnon] Grunberg has spent several hours a day writing his novella, while a battery of sensors and cameras tracked his brain waves, heart rate, galvanic skin response (an electrical measure of emotional arousal) and facial expressions. Next fall, when the book is published, some 50 ordinary people in the Netherlands will read it under similarly controlled circumstances, sensors and all.

Researchers will then crunch the data in the hope of finding patterns that may help illuminate links between the way art is created and enjoyed, and possibly the nature of creativity itself.

“Will readers of Arnon’s text feel they understand or embody the same emotions he had while he was writing it, or is reading a completely different process?” said Ysbrand van der Werf, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, who designed the experiment with Jan van Erp of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. “These are some of the questions we want to answer.”