Brain research shows novices write with their eyes
June 23, 2014 | 6:25 pm
Following the fascinating recent scientific research that demonstrates the effect that reading literature can have on your brain, here is some more to show how the brain works while writing. And the conclusions are surprising. As described in a paper in Elsevier journal NeuroImage, “Professional training in creative writing is associated with enhanced fronto-striatal activity in a literary text continuation task,” and summarized in the New York Times, the research concluded that, while inexperienced writers tended to use the areas of their brain associated with visual images while writing, experienced writers used the areas associated with planning, organization of learned skills, and language.
The research, directed by Martin Lotze, a faculty member with the department of Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Greifswald in Germany, “used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare 20 experts in creative writing and 23 age-matched non-experts.” The writers were provided by the creative writing program at the University of Hildesheim. The report continued:
During creative writing, experts showed cerebral activation in a predominantly left-hemispheric fronto-parieto-temporal network. When compared to inexperienced writers, experts showed increased left caudate nucleus and left dorsolateral and superior medial prefrontal cortex activation. In contrast, less experienced participants recruited increasingly bilateral visual areas. During creative writing activation in the right cuneus showed positive association with the creativity index in expert writers.
This could be no surprise in the light of the past research on readers that showed them using the areas of their brain associated with movement when buried in a very active passage of a book. But it could be also interesting to speculate whether the increasingly visual bias of our culture, and the barrage of film and TV narratives that writers are subjected to, have conditioned their minds to think of stories in visual terms. Who knows what a comparison with novice writers from a period prior to industrialization would reveal?