Thursday, March 31, 2016

There's Reading (for pleasure) and There's (critical) Reading

I've decided to bump this to the top of the queue in view of my recent series on posts on Attridge and Staten, The Craft of Poetry. This speaks to the difference between ordinary reading and so-called "close" reading, offering preliminary evidence that these two activities involved different deployment of neural resources. That is, they are different behavioral modes.

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A topic that interests me a great deal. It seems that one Natalie Phillips at Michigan State has been looking into the difference between reading for pleasure and reading analytically. It shows up in brain activity according to this article in Slate from a year ago:
One of the things that we saw in the pilot is that it’s not just that close reading is a more advanced form of pleasure reading. Pleasure reading also has distinct regions where it has more blood flow. They have two distinct “neurosignatures,” a term which describes complex patterns of brain activity that cross multiple regions of the brain. Pleasure reading has its own demands and close reading has its own pleasures. The value resides in being able to shift between modes. It’s a training in cognitive flexibility.

Really the biggest surprise to date is just how much the brain is shifting in moving between close reading and pleasure reading. Most people would expect to see pleasure centers activating with the more relaxed style of reading, and the regions associated with work, attention and cognitive load for the literary analysis. But what we’re finding is something else entirely. With pleasure reading, at least in the one subject for whom we have been able to fully evaluate it so far, we did see unique regions activated. That suggests that pleasure reading is not just some more lax or dormant state. And we’re seeing the whole brain activating for the close reading state.
Nor does this surprise me in the least:
One thing we realized immediately in our pilot is that professors are terrible subjects! So many of us have forgotten how to read for pleasure. It was important to find a population who could do both. Literary Ph.D.s turned out to be perfect for that.
You might want to take a look a my recent post on listening to audio books.

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