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Love reading Shakespeare? It can trigger a sudden burst of drama in your brain

Centuries on, the Bard's classics are still relevant, and often have a dramatic impact on readers.

Last Updated: Sep 02, 2019, 07.06 PM IST|Original: Sep 02, 2019, 06.17 PM IST
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Shakespearean language excites positive brain activity.
WASHINGTON D.C. [USA]: Researchers have found that the Shakespearean language excites positive brain activity. Experts found that this technique allowed the brain to understand what a word means before it gauges the function of the word within a sentence. This process caused a sudden peak in brain activity and forces it to work backward in order to fully gather what Shakespeare is trying to say.

"The brain reacts to reading a phrase such as 'he godded me' from the tragedy of Coriolanus, in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. If it is easy to see which pieces slot together you become bored of the game, but if the pieces don't appear to fit, when we know they should, the brain becomes excited," said Professor Philip Davis, from the University's School of English.

"By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off-guard in a manner that produces a sudden burst of activity - a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things," added professor Davis.

Experts believed that this heightened brain activity may be one of the reasons why Shakespeare's plays have such a dramatic impact on their readers.

"The effect on the brain is a bit like a magic trick; we know what the trick means but not how it happened. Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited," explained Professor Neil Roberts, from the University's Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, (MARIARC).

"The brain signature is relatively uneventful when we understand the meaning of a word but when the word changes the grammar of the whole sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word," said Professor Roberts.

Researchers together with Dr Guillaune Thierry, from the University of Wales, Bangor, monitored 20 participants using an electroencephalogram (EEG) as they read selected lines from Shakespeare's plays.

In this initial test, electrodes were placed on the subject's scalp to measure brain responses.

"EEG gives graph-like measurements and when the brain reads a sentence that does not make semantic sense it registers what we call an N400 effect - a negative wave modulation. When the brain reads a grammatically incorrect sentence it registers a P600 effect - an effect which continues to last after the word that triggered it was first read," said Professor Roberts.

Researchers also found that when participants read the word producing the functional shift there was no N400 effect indicating that the meaning was accepted but a P600 effect was observed which indicates a positive re-evaluation of the word.

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