Getting a Grip on Neuroaesthetics: An interdisciplinary fMRI study of pleasure and affect in poetryCody MejeurDepartment of EnglishMichigan State Universitymejeurco@msu.edu@cmejeurDr. Natalie PhillipsDigital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab (DHLC)Department of EnglishMichigan State University
Neuroaesthetics of PoetryPart of global collaboration through New York UniversityNeuroscience of beauty in artFocus on poetryHaiku at NYU, Sonnets at MSUOther institutions working on Music, Dance, etc.What are the neural networks/cognitive processes involved with aesthetics, finding art beautiful?Affective judgment, but not a study of particular affect
Initial DifficultiesHow does one adequately define aesthetics, let alone isolate it for study?Accounting without being reductiveAllowing flexibility while also being rigorousHow to make the question testable?Doable in a MRI scanner?How to get at initial impressions in the moment?Avoid delays/shifts in timeGet past reliance on self-reporting after the fact
Focus on Aesthetic Pleasure/DispleasureDefined as the feeling of liking or disliking, in this case a part of a poemAesthetic judgmentStill a difficulty: how to measure and test this?Solution: HighlightingDone digitallyMRI-compatible joystick or trackball mouse
ControlsSonnets20th centuryAll in EnglishNot overly familiarParticipantsEnglish MajorsUndergraduatesDifferent packets/sonnet ordersTraining for highlighting
Overview of Study ProcedureStep 1: Preliminary QuestionnairesStep 2: Read sonnets, FamiliarizeStep 3: Reread sonnets, HighlightStep 4: Longer answer, answer questions on sonnets from memoryStep 5: Optional Oral Interview
Step 1: QuestionnairesPANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) BeforeTwo AfterBAIS (Bucknell Auditory and Imagery Scale)VVIQ (Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire)
Step 3: Highlighting and Short AnswerParticipants are asked to rate each sonnet on a 1 to 10 scale in five different categories. How vivid is the imagery in this category? How positive or negative do you think the topic or theme of this sonnet is? How would you characterize your feelings while reading this sonnet? How strong (e.g. intense) were the feelings you had while reading this sonnet?How aesthetically pleasing (e.g. pleasing, powerful, or profound) did you find this sonnet?
Step 4: Long AnswerAnswer longer questions from memoryNot remembering a sonnet is an optionValuable data!
Compiled Highlighting: Mapping Experiences
Some Preliminary FindingsWorried that participants would just mark pleasure/displeasure according to positive/negative wordsnot the case!Strongest correlation between aesthetic pleasure and strength of feelingNot vividness, positive/negative feeling, etc.Highlighted moments are most commonly metaphors/figurative languagePleasurable when they help understand or present unconventional understandingDispleasurable when they are cliche/unoriginal
Next StepsStill collecting data21 Participants so far, aiming for 30Publishing preliminary findingsCondensing StudyTransport study into MRI ScannerMRI-compatible technology
Lessons Learned/SuggestionsRigorous study of abstract Humanities ideas and questions is possible!Interdisciplinary collaboration. Multiple perspectivesNeed right toolsNeed flexibilityAvoid being reductiveNeed studies that are more fluid, dynamicAdapts to the participant, rather than forcing the participant to adapt
Questions?Cody MejeurDepartment of EnglishMichigan State Universitymejeurco@msu.edu@cmejeurAcknowledgments:Dr. Natalie PhillipsLab Leads Lana Grasser, Karah Smith, Lauren StraleyResearchers Sal Antonucci, Jacob Frazier