This Is Your Brain on Writing

Studies of mental functions, behaviors and the nervous system.

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This Is Your Brain on Writing

#1  Postby kennyc » Jun 20, 2014 11:10 pm

This Is Your Brain on Writing

Carl Zimmer

A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.

That’s one of the implications of new research on the neuroscience of creative writing. For the first time, neuroscientists have used fMRI scanners to track the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers as they sat down — or, in this case, lay down — to turn out a piece of fiction.

The researchers, led by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany, observed a broad network of regions in the brain working together as people produced their stories. But there were notable differences between the two groups of subjects. The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.

The research is drawing strong reactions. Some experts praise it as an important advance in understanding writing and creativity, while others criticize the research as too crude to reveal anything meaningful about the mysteries of literature or inspiration.

Dr. Lotze has long been intrigued by artistic expression. In previous studies, he has observed the brains of piano players and opera singers, using fMRI scanners to pinpoint regions that become unusually active in the brain.

Needless to say, that can be challenging when a subject is singing an aria. Scanners are a lot like 19th-century cameras: They can take very sharp pictures, if their subject remains still. To get accurate data, Dr. Lotze has developed software that can take into account fluctuations caused by breathing or head movements.

For creative writing, he faced a similar challenge. In previous studies, scientists had observed people doing only small tasks like thinking up a plot in their heads.
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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/scien ... iters.html
Kenny A. Chaffin
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