Posts Tagged With: Neuroplasticity

NeuroScience: A Cartoonist’s Take

Re-blogged fromNeuro – Therapy Tales #272

The cartoonist says:  “This one is inspired by an article I was reading on “neuropsychoanalysis”. Now I’m all for the integration of learning between neuroscience and psychotherapy (and have been a-shouting about this excellent book for years) but neurology and psychoanalysis..? Yes, I know Freud was a neurologist, but something so scientific, so evidence-based, combined with something so… well.. not. Despite what some would say and what Freud wanted, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are more art than science. (And I don’t count CBT. Ever. ;) )”

Ooh, that sounded dangerously like an opinion. So, erm, yeah, whatever. I thought it was interesting. Or summink. Come kick my ass in the comments and tell me why I’m wrong.

“Anyway”, he says, “enough seriousness. We’re about the giggles here. So I reduced this well-written, highly intelligent article to the question “how would a brain look on the couch?” and there you go.”

“What can I say.. it ain’t (rocket) science.”



Good Cartoons!

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NeuroScience: Music and Brain

In this blog, University of Toronto students discuss  the course, Music and the Brain.  Posting permission is granted to present and past students in the course. The blog is moderated by Dr. Lee Bartel.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chapter 4-
Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination
Sacks, Oliver. 2007. “Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination.” In Musicophilia, Tales of Music and The Brain. Vintage Canada, Toronto: ON.
In this chapter of Sacks’ book Musicophilia, he discusses the concept of musical imagery, as it exists for individuals. Recalling the vivid internal musical symphonies that could be evoked in his father’s own mind, yet not for his mother, Sacks concluded that not everyone possesses an equal capacity for such mental imagery. Professional musicians, however, are remarkably skilled at this trait.
Sacks contemplates composers of past and present and the creative musical stimulus that occupies their minds.
While some composers rely on an instrument during their creative process, many are able to conceptualize and hear the music entirely in their head. In addition, he examines Beethoven’s deafness and its effect on him as a composer; contrary to a musical demise that some may have predicted, following his sudden loss of hearing, it would seem as though the music grew more intellectually complex. Could it be, perhaps, that through the loss of an input source of hearing that his internal musical imagery was intensified as his auditory cortex became increasingly sensitive. Since Beethoven could no longer perceive external music, he was forced to rely upon more abstract, imaginative powers of thought as he composed. Through these measures, his music was an undeniable success.
His own personal history with music has also influenced Sacks mental musical imagery. Although not heightened to the acuteness of his father’s, Sacks noted his ability to glance at a piece of music which he had learned several years prior, and instantly begin to feel as though he was playing that music: he could “see” his hands on the keyboard, and “hear” the music in his head. This mental rehearsal to which he refers is an extremely important tool for performers before and while they are learning new repertoire, and before performances. Research has provided proof to the effectiveness of imagined practice.
Through their study of music’s effect on the mind, Robert Zatorre and colleagues have discovered that imagining the sound of music stimulates the auditory cortex to almost the same degree as actually hearing the music. Imagining the act of playing has an equally stimulating effect on the motor cortex, which in turn, continues to stimulate the auditory cortex. This evidence is encouragement for performers to visualize and imagine playing new music before attempting it; this process initiates neural circuitry that will be formed during the actual learning, thus, making the physical attempt much more fluent, as if the musician had already learned the music. The pathways have already been created; half the work has been done.
He continues to describe the mind’s tendency to predict music that is familiar to us. Studies of individuals’ brain activity during familiar listening experiences, wherein audible music is removed, demonstrate how the mind will attempt to fill in the missing segments of music; according to MRI brain scans, although music may have been removed, the auditory control centers displayed greater activation these times than with non-familiar musical examples.
Research has also allowed investigators to learn of frontal cortex stimulation that occurs during deliberate, conscious and voluntary mental imagery, such as frequently relied upon by professional musicians. Those who do not depend on such musical imagery for their vocation, may find most of their imagery is the result of unconscious thought. Even when one is not aware of why a musical association is occurring, it is a continual occurrence. Some experiences of musical imagery can be predicated by repeated listening; a favourite song, for example, can become embedded into one’s subconscious and revisited unconsciously, for unexplained reasoning.
Verbal associations may also initiate musical imagery: lyrics from a song, similarities of a situation, a key word may all cause an involuntary lapse of music in one’s mind. Finally, repressed emotions may be another factor in musical imagery that seems to be cultivated out of the blue. Sacks draws upon personal experiences through which he can relate to each unexplained onset of musical imagery. Clearly music is always on his mind.
Having spent a great volume of my time as of late researching biofeedback and EEG neurofeedback training as it applies to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Sacks’ chapter speaks volumes to me. I am flooded with inquiry questions and ideas for future research into the discipline of brain therapy, and reading his insights with regards to musical imagery, I am curious as to the overlap that I see.
Studies and therapeutic applications involving neurofeedback are based upon the notion that one is able to consciously retrain the brain. Through monitoring EEG patterns in an individual and applying biofeedback therapy which functions through operant conditioning principles, the subject can change the produced brainwaves. Thus, successful biofeedback or retraining of brain activity.
Sacks describes the cognitive processes of visual imagery used by musicians before learning new music, and even when they are away from their instrument. According to brainwave MRI scans, activity occurs in the auditory and motor cortex during these sessions of imagining hearing and playing music. As well, if an individual deliberately, voluntarily imagines music, the frontal cortex is also involved. This knowledge could prove to be effective in the treatment of ADHD, which is shown to affect the frontal and motor cortex within individuals.
Whether through consciously invoked musical imagery of playing or simply hearing a melody that is familiar, benefits may be sought in the for patients. As well, evidence of auditory stimulation during familiar listening exercises could also prove to be beneficial to ADHD sufferers if implemented into therapeutic practices; if could offer individuals‘ increased spans of attention and focus, and help to engage concentration.
This chapter has left me with further areas of interest to explore and contemplate, in the field of music and brain research, and has given me new insight into the power of both music and the human mind.
Posted by at 1:29 PM


Sarah N said…
Concerning the issue of musical associations, I find this to be a very perplexing topic. It is always amazing to me how two similarly trained musicians can conjure up such opposite mental imagery about the same musical passage. But I think the same thing can happen with language. In rehearsals with my group I often try to explain what I want to convey with the music using words. I used to find that this didn’t work often enough to be helpful, and I wanted to understand why.
Probing deeper, I found that even words that seem to be the most simple and straightforward can have very different connotations for people based on personal experience, or education, or any number of reasons. For example, take the word ‘interesting’. I’ve worked with those who consider ‘interesting’ to be complimentary when referring to someone’s playing. It means that you have created interest, that your playing is not boring, it has ideas. But there are others that consider the word ‘interesting’ to be a very negative comment in regards to playing, often because certain teachers have used this word when they don’t think a student has played well but they don’t want to openly insult the student.
One of the hardest things about playing in an ensemble is developing a musical and verbal language that you all share and understand. Experiences like these make me think that mental associations, whether musical or otherwise, are always extremely personal, and one must always investigate to find out what someone really thinks or feels or hears.
December 20, 2011 7:52 PM
Categories: Enquiries & Speculations, Stroke and Its Aftermath | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Neuroscience: Ego-Awareness-Self-Psychology

“Fair Observer is an internet magazine for sharing exceptional ideas, insights, and analysis with the global community.”  The four articles that follow show the depth and breadth of current brain/mind research.

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This is a series of musings about the inter-relatedness of the ego, awareness, sense of self, cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Science is trying to solve the deepest mysteries and Benoit Wolff and Vaughn Gray bring us the latest on this.

  1. The Chronicle of a Mystery: Delving into the Human Mind  — “It is in the center of our lives and yet fairly unknown: our self. At least from a scientific standpoint, the self remains a mystery that has lead to a never-ending scientific debate and countless pages of theory. Disciplines like philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis and the neurosciences, to name only a few, have come up with a plethora of possible explanations concerning its nature and functioning.”  —

  2. Freud’s Ego:The I Before the I  —  Samuel Weber, an American philosopher and outstanding thinker across the disciplines of literary theory, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He is the Paul de Man Chair at the European Graduate School (EGS) and the Avalon Professor of Humanities at Northwestern University.  —

  3. Disorders of the Self  —  MD board certified psychiatrist at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, Elmar is an expert in dementia research and early detection of patients with dementia. His research focuses on cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers for dementia, cerebral MRI and addictive disorders.  —

  4. Self Referential Thought: A Neuro-Scientific Perspective  —  Benjamin Maier investigates the thinking about ourselves, which takes place precisely when we are not perceiving, reasoning or making decisions.  —

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NeuroScience: The Decline of Civilization’s Right Brain

The Decline of Civilization’s Right Brain: Animated

October 24th, 2011

[In this new RSAnimate, renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. To view the full lecture, go to



The mind, they say, is a house divided: The right hemisphere of the brain is predominantly intuitive; the left, predominantly rational.

In his recent book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, the British psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist looks at the evolution of Western Civilization through a neuropsychological prism. In McGilchrist’s view our left hemisphere has, over the past four centuries, progressively pushed aside our right hemisphere. “My belief,” McGilchrist told The Morning News last year, “is that it has now taken over our self-understanding, for a variety of reasons, and is leading us all down the road to ruin.”

McGilchrist is quick to point out that the old left-brain, right-brain clichés of the 1960s and 1970s were greatly oversimplified. Recent research has shown that both sides of the brain are deeply involved in functions such as reason and emotion. But the dichotomy is still useful, McGilchrist says, and should not be abandoned.

“The right hemisphere gives sustained, broad, open, vigilant alertness, whereas the left hemisphere gives narrow, sharply focused attention to detail,” McGilchrist says in a new RSA Animate feature (see above). “People who lose their right hemispheres have a pathological narrowing of the window of attention.”  McGilchrist sees this narrowing process occurring at the societal level. The left brain, he argues, conceives of the world as a set of decontextualized, static, material, abstract things, whereas the right brain holistically embraces a world of evolving, spiritual, empathic, concrete beings.

Both hemispheres are necessary, McGilchrist says in the Morning News interview, “but one is more fundamentally important than the other, and sees more than the other, even though there are some things that it must not get involved with, if it is to maintain its broader, more complete–in essence more truthful–vision. This is the right hemisphere, which, as I demonstrate from the neuropsychological literature, literally sees more, and grounds the understanding of the left hemisphere–an understanding which must ultimately be re-integreted with the right hemisphere, if it is not to lead to error. The left hemisphere is extraordinarily valuable as an intermediate, but not as a final authority.”

McGilchrist is not without his critics. The British philosopher A.C. Grayling writes in the Literary Review, “Unfortunately, if one accepts the logic of his argument that our Western civilisation has declined from a right-hemisphere to a left-hemisphere dispensation, we do not have to imagine what the former would be like, because history itself tells us: in it most of us would be superstitious and ignorant peasants working a strip farm that we would never leave from cradle to grave, under the thumb of slightly more left-hemispheric bullies in the form of the local baron and priest.”

After The Master and His Emissary was published, McGilchrist discovered a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein that he felt neatly supported his thesis. He uses this quote at the end of his RSA talk: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” But did Einstein actually say that? The Internet is awash with dubious Einstein quotations, and we were unable to locate the original source of this one. If any reader can verify its authenticity (by citing the original text, speech or conversation) please leave a note in our comments section. Meanwhile, you can watch McGilchrist’s entire half-hour RSA lecture here.

via Brain Pickings

The Taxi Dog asks:  The thirst for such information is astounding!  What “need” is this?

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NeuroScience: Synaesthesia

Here’s the second article



Smells like Beethoven

Using the word “note” to describe an odour may be more than just metaphor

Feb 4th 2012 | from the print edition

What do you hear?

THAT some people make weird associations between the senses has been acknowledged for over a century. The condition has even been given a name: synaesthesia. Odd as it may seem to those not so gifted, synaesthetes insist that spoken sounds and the symbols which represent them give rise to specific colours or that individual musical notes have their own hues.

Yet there may be a little of this cross-modal association in everyone. Most people agree that loud sounds are “brighter” than soft ones. Likewise, low-pitched sounds are reminiscent of large objects and high-pitched ones evoke smallness. Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence of Oxford University think something similar is true between sound and smell.

In this section

Ms Crisinel and Dr Spence wanted to know whether an odour sniffed from a bottle could be linked to a specific pitch, and even a specific instrument. To find out, they asked 30 people to inhale 20 smells—ranging from apple to violet and wood smoke—which came from a teaching kit for wine-tasting. After giving each sample a good sniff, volunteers had to click their way through 52 sounds of varying pitches, played by piano, woodwind, string or brass, and identify which best matched the smell. The results of this study, to be published later this month in Chemical Senses, are intriguing.

The researchers’ first finding was that the volunteers did not think their request utterly ridiculous. It rather made sense, they told them afterwards. The second was that there was significant agreement between volunteers. Sweet and sour smells were rated as higher-pitched, smoky and woody ones as lower-pitched. Blackberry and raspberry were very piano. Vanilla had elements of both piano and woodwind. Musk was strongly brass.

It is not immediately clear why people employ their musical senses in this way to help their assessment of a smell. But gone are the days when science assumed each sense worked in isolation. People live, say Dr Spence and Ms Crisinel, in a multisensory world and their brains tirelessly combine information from all sources to make sense, as it were, of what is going on around them. Nor is this response restricted to humans. Studies of the brains of mice show that regions involved in olfaction also react to sound.

Taste, too, seems linked to hearing. Ms Crisinel and Dr Spence have previously established that sweet and sour tastes, like smells, are linked to high pitch, while bitter tastes bring lower pitches to mind. Now they have gone further. In a study that will be published later this year they and their colleagues show how altering the pitch and instruments used in background music can alter the way food tastes.

In this experiment, each volunteer was given four pieces of toffee. While they were eating two of them, a sombre, low-pitched piece of music played on brass instruments filled the air. They consumed the other two, however, to the accompaniment of a higher-pitched piano piece. Volunteers rated the toffee eaten during low-pitched music as more bitter than that consumed during the high-pitched rendition. The toffee was, of course, identical. It was the sound that tasted different.

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NeuroScience: The Nature of Humanity

The Economist is a great news magazine.  The current issue contains two articles of note.  Here’s the first:


The nature of humanity

What’s a man?

Studies of brain genetics are starting to reveal what makes humans human

Feb 4th 2012 | from the print edition

THE problem with understanding human uniqueness is precisely that it is unique. Though the proper study of mankind may be man, that study will yield little if there is no reference point to compare man with.

That, at least, is the philosophy of Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig. Dr Paabo, whose work on fossil DNA was the inspiration for “Jurassic Park”, has since become interested in human evolution. To this end, he and his colleagues have sequenced the DNA of both Neanderthal man and an Asian species of prehistoric human, the Denisovians, which Dr Paabo’s own work identified.

Now he has turned his attentions to modern Homo sapiens. In collaboration with a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr Paabo and his colleague Philipp Khaitovich have compared genetic activity over the course of a lifetime in the brains of humans, chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys. They have then matched what they found with what is known of Neanderthals, and think they have thus discovered at least part of the genetic difference between Homo sapiens and the others that creates human uniqueness.

Dr Paabo and his colleagues focused their examination, just published in Genome Research, on two parts of the brain. One was the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of abstract reasoning and social behaviour—things that humans are particularly good at. The other was the lateral cerebellar cortex, which is more to do with manual abilities. They extracted cells, post mortem, from people, chimps and monkeys of many ages, and looked at which genes had been active in these cells when the owners were alive.

The vortex of the cortex

They did this by examining the RNA in the cells. RNA molecules are single-stranded copies of the double-helical DNA genes in the cell nucleus. Their job is to carry instructions from the genes to a cell’s protein-making machinery. Most primate genes have now been identified, so it is possible to make chips covered with complementary strands to the RNA messengers, to which these messengers will uniquely stick, and which thus act as probes for particular messenger molecules.

Using such chips, Dr Khaitovich and Dr Paabo were able to find out when, during the course of life, particular genes were active, by working out how much RNA from each gene cells from particular parts of the brains of individuals of different ages contained. Their results fell into six categories.

First, they found some genes whose expression patterns over a lifetime were uniquely human (ie, were the same in chimpanzees and monkeys, but different in people) and others that were uniquely chimpanzee (ie, the same in people and monkeys, but different in chimpanzees). Second, they discovered that there were more uniquely human expression patterns than uniquely chimp ones. Third, unique human expression patterns were more common in the prefrontal cortex than in the cerebellum. Fourth, though these uniquely expressed genes were most active in the young of all species, their period of activity was several years longer in humans than in the others. Fifth, the activities of a lot of the uniquely active genes seemed to be correlated: the researchers identified seven groups of genes (five in the prefrontal cortex and two in the cerebellum) which each seemed to be working as a module. And sixth, these modular genes seem to be involved in the crucial job of linking nerve cells together through junctions called synapses.

To summarise, human beings have suites of genes that probably cause their brains to be “plastic” and thus receptive to change far longer (to the age of about five) than is true for chimps or monkeys (whose brains are plastic for less than a year after birth). Moreover, Dr Khaitovich was able to work out how the expression of these modules of genes was co-ordinated, by looking at the switches, known as transcription factors, that turn them on and off.

Indeed, by comparing modern genomes with their discoveries about Neanderthals Dr Paabo’s group has found that the regulatory process for one of the modules came into existence after the modern human and Neanderthal lines separated from one another, about 300,000 years ago. Unfortunately, it is not possible to look at the expression pattern of genes in Neanderthals, and it probably never will be. But it might be possible, as knowledge advances, to reconstruct part of it from a better understanding of that extinct species’s DNA. “Pleistocene Park”, anybody?


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NeuroScience: Anticipation And Feeling In Literature – 2

How is it that readers can sense a direction, a possible future meaning, from a given sentence?

This is the basic question of the neuroscience of literature.  David S. Maill, University of Wales, currently at the University of Alberta, CA,has studied in this area for decades.

“What are its causes, and what are the inferential processes that are initiated? How does the sense of a whole arise, and from what aspects of a text? And what is the relation between these two levels of response, the local and the global? These prospective aspects of response have not generally received much consideration from psychologists: models of response have proposed solutions drawn from non-literary fields (usually cognitive science) that underestimate the nature of the problem.

For example, the concept of macro-structure proposed by Kintsch and Van Dijk (1978) seems inadequate as a representation of the kinds of overall understanding at which readers of literary texts aim. Similarly, the discourse structure described by Hobbs (1990) takes no account of the poetic features of literary texts that delight and surprise their readers (see Beers [1987] and Miall and Kuiken [1994a], for some critical discussion of theories of this kind). Moreover, studies in the cognitive tradition have also tended to blur distinctions between literary and non-literary texts, and have provided no purchase on the individual differences between readers or on the personal and often feeling-rich meanings evoked during literary reading (cf. Zwaan, 1993, p. 162-7).”

“We do not wait until reaching the end of a text before beginning to entertain ideas about what the text means!

Various aspects of the text, semantic, stylistic, and narrative, provide suggestions upon which a reader is likely to build his or her own anticipations.

This can be demonstrated by a brief analysis of the following passage, taken from the opening of a short story by Virginia Woolf, “Together and Apart” (Woolf, 1944/1982):

Mrs Dalloway introduced them, saying you will like him. The conversation began some minutes before anything was said, for both Mr Serle and Miss Anning looked at the sky and in both of their minds the sky went on pouring its meaning though very differently . . .

The narrative situation at the outset seems to involve a social gathering, such as a party. From the second phrase, “you will like him,” we are likely to infer, perhaps without noticing it, that there will be a bias towards the point of view of the female character (which is confirmed by the remaining part of the long second sentence that I have not quoted). The opening phrase of the next sentence, “The conversation began,” picks up an obvious expectation that the characters will begin talking, but then thwarts it by stating that nothing was said. What kind of non-verbal conversation are these characters holding? We may already be predicting something like rapport or sympathy, especially as we have been told that she “will like him.” In the next phrase we discover that the meeting appears to be out of doors, and for many readers the reference to the effect of the sky might momentarily evoke a romantic aura; however, the appended phrase, “though very differently,” could be taken to undermine this. So far, then, a narrative situation has been invoked, in which a woman meets a man with whom she may feel an immediate sympathy: already, readers may be anticipating a romantic scenario. The stylistic features can be construed to support this, given the metaphors of a conversation without words and the sky that “pours” meaning. At the same time, hints of a possible distance between the characters could also be read into the same metaphors, for which the phrase “very differently” provides evidence. Perhaps these are two characters who will in some way fail to relate to each other.”

“Within a few seconds a range of complementary but also contradictory responses has become possible. While some of the inferences that are made may be confirmed or not confirmed quickly (as happens with the inference of point of view), others may not be satisfied so soon: the reader may need to keep in play several possible meanings that will have a bearing not only on the outcome of the story (the narrative dimension) but also on what it means (the point of the story, or its theme). The reader must, in other words, assess the strength of the different implications, such as those presented in the second sentence, in the light of subsequent evidence, and decide which offer the best fit to the story as a whole. In fact, the failure of relationship is the implication that the story will emphasize. (A study of readers’ responses to this story found that readers tended to shift from a romantic interpretation at the beginning of the story to one involving isolation or inability to communicate: Miall, 1989a.)”

“Woolf’s story is not particularly unusual as a literary text in posing such problems, except perhaps in being unusually compact. The problem, from the perspective of reader response theory, is to account for the processes by which local details, of the kind we have been describing, project the larger meanings. In what form are such anticipations made, and what control processes do readers use to evaluate and monitor their anticipations?”

“Two reader response theorists who discuss the experience of reading in this way are Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser. In “Affective Stylistics” Fish (1980) argued persuasively for the significance of the experience of the reader during reading. The extraction of a “correct” final meaning for a text is not the only reading activity in which we should be interested. Fish pointed in particular to a range of syntactical devices by which readers are led to expect meanings that are then contradicted. At the sentence level, Fish would, for example, recognize the shift in meaning of “conversation” in Woolf’s second sentence as a significant strategy from the reader’s perspective. He proposed that “the temporary adoption of these inappropriate strategies is itself a response to the strategy of an author; and the resulting mistakes are part of the experience provided by that author’s language and therefore part of its meaning” (p. 47). Iser (1978) has offered a comparable account of reading, based primarily on concepts drawn from phenomenology and gestalt psychology. The “gaps” or “blanks” in a text (such as the possible contradiction we noticed in the Woolf passage) require readers’ acts of “ideation” and the building of a schema adequate to the text as a whole. Neither Fish nor Iser, however, have undertaken to develop their models in psychological terms; nor have they attempted to test them empirically with readers (and Fish has not continued to develop his model).”

“A part of Iser’s argument is the contention that fiction texts differ from expository texts in terms of the mental processes required for understanding them. An expository text refers to a given object, thus the range of possible meanings of each sentence must continually be narrowed down to make reference precise. During a fictional text “the very connectibility broken up by the blanks tends to become multifarious. It opens up an increasing number of possibilities, so that the combination of schemata entails selective decisions on the part of the reader.” (1978, p. 184). In effect, an expository text refers to an object that is specified with increasing precision; a fictional text refers forward to a schema that the reader must bring into being. The two reading processes may roughly be described as retrospective and prospective. An empirical comparison of readers’ activities during the reading of an essay or a fictional text by Olson, Mack, and Duffy (1981) showed that while few anticipations were made during the reading of essays, anticipations were characteristic of the response to stories. Readers of essays appear to be engaged in building a model of the text: “Each new element in the essay is related to earlier elements. There is little anticipation of what is coming up, except at the most general level.” In contrast, the reader of a story “is looking ahead, trying to anticipate where the story is going. Except at the beginning, where an overall hypothesis is being developed, the story reader tends to relate each sentence to the general hypotheses and predictions that have been developed” (p. 311).”

“The different orientations are described in the Olson et al. study as retrospective and prospective. Unlike this report, however, accounts of literary reading proposed by psychologists have more frequently tended to embody retrospective models, based on discourse theory or schema theory (e.g., Hobbs, 1990; Simon, 1994). While such theories have been notably successful in accounting for some of the processes of comprehension, given relatively simple prose or stories, the key role of the anticipatory processes of the kind required by literary texts is largely invisible to such models. The difficulty of studying the anticipatory aspects of reading, and the lack of constructive thought about this problem on the part of cognitive scientists, points to the strategy offered in this article. As a way of posing more explicitly and in more detail what specific problems face the literary reader in the anticipatory domain, and to enrich theoretical understanding of reader response, the present focus will be on a neuropsychological model of reading.”

“The focus of the discussion will thus be on anticipation, and its role in the constructive process by which a reader interprets details in a text and works towards an understanding of a text as a whole. However, several of the neuropsychological studies that will be mentioned point to the role of feelings and emotions in creating and supporting the anticipatory function. Feelings, it will be suggested, probably play the central role in initiating and directing the interpretive activities involved in such complex activities as reading. A glance at recent accounts by psychologists shows that the anticipatory role of feeling in this respect has not received much consideration (e.g., Frijda, 1986; Oatley, 1992; but see Aylwin, 1985, pp. 136-7), although it was recognized by various authors in the last two centuries, such as Coleridge and William James. This points to the need for a systematic investigation of what the neuropsychological research suggests, in order that the hypotheses it provides can be brought to the domains of both psychology and reader response studies for elaboration and testing.”


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NeuroScience: Anticipation and Feeling in Literary Response

Poetics, 1995, 23, 275-29

Anticipation and feeling are taken to be significant components of the process of literary reading, although cognitive theories of reading have tended to neglect them.

How does the brain make sense of its neurological inputs in order to make sentence make sense?  This is the first of two posts from David S. Miall, Department of English, University of Alberta, in which he expounds on the Neuroscience of literature.

“Recent neuropsychological research is described that casts light on these processes: the paper focuses on the integrative functions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for anticipation and on the contribution of feeling to the functions of the right cerebral hemisphere.”

It shows how feelings appear to play a central role in initiating and directing the interpretive activities involved in such complex activities as reading.

“In particular, a key feature of literary texts that captures and directs response is foregrounding, that is, distinctive stylistic features: these defamiliarize and arouse feeling. Such responses are likely to be mediated by the right hemisphere, which is specialized to process novelty. An analysis of the neuropsychological mechanisms implicated in response to foregrounding suggests how readers discriminate among competing interpretive possibilities, and how other important elements of literary response such as imagery, memory, and self-referential themes and concerns are recruited.”

“Several studies are cited indicating that response to various characteristic components of literary texts is mediated by this hemisphere, including the prosodic aspects of foregrounding, figurative language, and narrative structure. This hemisphere also provides the context for elaborating and contextualizing negative feelings, a process related to Aristotle’s notion of catharsis. It is argued that the neuropsychological evidence sketched in this paper provides a more reliable basis for future theoretical and empirical studies of literary reading.”

The article is comprehensive and goes on for several pages.  In the last installment, below, I’ll summarize the findings and conclusions.    The link to the entire article is included.


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Of Course I Can Dance!

I’ve told you about my “wheelchair dancing” in another post.  But now I’m really dancing.

I’ve been WANTING to stand up.  Just recently, just WANTING to.  “Wanting” doesn’t explain the feeling.  I have the feeling that I can. Something is going on in my muscles!   Co-ordination!  [before, all all I could do was  “twitches”]

The only “walking” I do is into my doctor’s office.  The building is a in an old historic building downtown and somehow it meets the building codes.  But the doorways are too small for my wheelchair.  So I have put a four pronged cane in her office that I only use to take the 8 steps in.  With the doctor guiding each step.

This “walking” 8 steps is all the walking I’ve done in almost a decade.  I don’t know how or why…I just FELT I could more! The other day, I tried.  Tried.  [Any shrink will tell you that “trying” and “doing” are two species of action.]  But I did!

Please understand!  I  didn’t  do  any thing.  Several days I said to myself, “Let’s try again”.  Two days ago, walked from the kitchen to the bathroom.  Maybe little baby steps.  Thirty steps.  Yesterday, I’m walking all over he apartment.

Now I will tell you that I’ve had several serious falls.  I fell down on my back, broke my paralyzed arm under myself, and had fractures in seven places along my forearm.  Owie!  So maybe I was foolish for trying.  Several doctors told me that because of my use of coudmadin, my arm just will not heal.  And that I should be content in my safety.  But I FEEL more stable every day.

I’m not going to prance down the street, although in Hollywood prancing is de rigueur.  I’ll only do it in the house, a` la maison, as it were.

More and more, I believe that there is a GUIDING PRINCIPLE.  “God” works.  The brain’s capacity to heal itself works too. The Big Bang?  The 2000 Year Old Man?  The Six Million DOLLAR Man?  I don’t know?

For me, only for me, I thank the Deity; who encourages to to be my crazy, humorous, spiritual, intellectual, over-sexed, hungry-for-sensation; kindly, poetic, clumsy, obsessed, stroke-survived, still striving self.

Long may s/he wave!

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