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Reading: Brain, Mind and Body

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Reading and Mental Health


In the first section of this chapter, Philip Davis and Rhiannon Corcoran outline their ground-breaking experiments on reading and the brain, suggesting that the inner neural processing of literary language has the potential to galvanise existing brain pathways and to influence emotion networks and thinking modes. Together with Rick Rylance and Adam Zeman—whose own study of the reading brain showed that reading literary prose and poetry activated regions of the brain previously identified with emotional response to music and with introspection—the authors consider how fMRI studies can help to triangulate or complicate findings emerging qualitatively in relation to reading’s power to reorient perspective. David Kidd describes recent studies of how reading literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or non-fiction) can foster ‘Theory of Mind’—the human capacity to comprehend others’ mental states and understand that other people hold beliefs and desires distinct from one’s own—which linked the temporary enhancement of ToM to literary fiction’s affective simulation of characters’ inner lives and the reader’s immersed engagement therewith. Finally, Christophe de Bezenac describes his current cutting-edge work in using physiological measures of emotional processing—such as heart rate variability and skin conductance response, eye movement, facial expression, vocal features—to offer insight into otherwise hidden aspects of brain and body function during literary reading. Investigation of these implicit processes, de Bezenac argues, can be powerfully combined with both computational linguistics (sentiment analysis) and a range of qualitative methods to provide holistic understanding of the lived cognitive and emotional experiences of readers.

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Correspondence to Philip Davis .

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Davis, P., Corcoran, R., Rylance, R., Zeman, A., Kidd, D., de Bezenac, C. (2019). Reading: Brain, Mind and Body. In: Billington, J. (eds) Reading and Mental Health. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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