Your Brain on Jane Austen Lecture

The talk, "Your Brain on Jane Austen: An Interdisciplinary Experiment on Literary Attention and Reading, is sponsored by the Humanities Center, and features Natalie Phillips, Assistant Professor of English at Michigan State University.

The talk will describe a unique cross-disciplinary study that teamed scholars in the humanities, neuroscience, and radiology in an exploration of the relationship between reading, attention and distraction. The experiment used neuroscientific tools to explore the cognitive dynamics involved in reading a literary work—here, a novel by Jane Austen—with different levels of attention. Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, was used to analyze complex changes in brain activity as Phds in literature read a chapter of Mansfield Park with two styles of attention: close reading (or, literary analysis) and pleasure reading. The surprising results show understanding the history of attention is crucial, revealing the Enlightenment roots of a series of key debates over focus that continue to shape modern neuroscientific studies.

This lecture is free and open to the public.