When asked the reason behind our love of literature, most of us answer in a straight forward manner. We love it for the prose … for the story… for a connection … for escapism. Some delve deeper into literary critism; others still will branch off into literary theory. Up until this point, however, we tend to apply what we know to literature–be it gender studies, deconstructionism, structuralism, new historicism, and the like.

But there’s a new kid in town…

Dubbed “Neuro lit crit”–or “the science of reading”– it is the study of how great writing affects the synapses in our brain. And it’s a field that’s beginning to catch on.

In the months to come, a dozen students–part of the Yale-Haskins Teagle Collegium, headed by Yale literature professor Michael Holquist–will read specific text, then given an MRI to map their neurological responses.

His groups have spent months designing their texts, or “vignettes”, and they have been specifically created to different levels of complexity based on the assumption that the brain reacts differently to great literature than to a newspaper or a Harry Potter book. The aim, Holquist says, is to provide a scientific basis for schemes to improve the reading skills of college-age students. {excerpt from Literary critics scan the brain to find out why we love to read, by Paul Harris and Alison Flood, The Observer, Sunday 11 April 2010}.

Of course, not everyone is on board. For many, employing science to analyze fiction is asinine.

As for us, we’ve long advocated the reading of books outside your comfort zone, to expand the mind–a little scientific evidence to back us up couldn’t hurt.

As for me personally, thank you, but I’ll leave neuro lit crit to the professionals. A love of story and beautiful prose is all I really need to know.

Click here to read the full article, Literary critics scan the brain to find out why we love to read, by Paul Harris and Alison Flood, The Observer, Sunday 11 April 2010.