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Reading Shakespeare Sparks Peak in Brain Activity

Posted Aug 12 2008 4:21pm
Thanks to the Science Blog for bringing this one to my attention. Researchers from the School of English and the MRI Analysis Center at the University of Liverpool collaborated to discover that when participants in their study read Shakespeare, their brains felt a little twinkle dust and magically peaked, indicating heavy-duty thinking. What caused this sparkle? Shakespeare used common words differently. He employed, linguistically speaking, functional shift, meaning he sometimes used a verb as a noun or a noun as an adjective or a verb as noun, all of which make our minds backtrack and rethink what's going on, to figure out the meaning of the word before we fit it into the meaning of the sentence or phrase. According to the researchers, the brain goes boom and we also begin to understand multiple meanings of a line or phrase, giving dramatic umph to the words. We also feel satisfaction and delight that we figured out the puzzle, making the whole event very entertaining. The researchers compared the mind's work in this situation to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. If you see how it all fits immediately, it becomes boring. If you have to work on it, it's much more interesting, offering surprises and creating the need for bursts of activity. And our brains really like that. And we do, too, if we enjoy the surprise and/or successfully solve the puzzle.
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