Tuesday, May 18, 2010

fMRI and fiction

The ABC Radio Book Show talked to an English professor with the lovely appellation Dr Zunshine, who is using fMRI to study how the brain reacts when we read fiction. She talks about our ability to process different levels of mental states: that is, when we know something, it's easy to process, as in "I am tired." Two levels are okay, too: "She knows that I am tired." Three levels: "I want her to think that I am wide awake." Four levels: "He wants me to understand that she thinks that I am awake even though I am actually tired." After this, it gets trickier.

Virginia Woolf, apparently, was the master of this technique, including up to seven levels of mental states in her fiction. No wonder her little thin novels take as long to read as the latest 500-page blockbuster! According to Dr Zunshine, reading fiction is all about brain training, practising the skill of coping with multiple mental states.

I'm not just reading, I'm growing some new neuronal connections.

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