NeuroDante: Poetry Mentally Engages More Experts but Moves More Non-Experts, and for Both the Cerebral Approach Tendency Goes Hand in Hand with the Cerebral Effort

Brain Sci. 2021 Feb 25;11(3):281. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11030281.


Neuroaesthetics, the science studying the biological underpinnings of aesthetic experience, recently extended its area of investigation to literary art; this was the humus where neurocognitive poetics blossomed. Divina Commedia represents one of the most important, famous and studied poems worldwide. Poetry stimuli are characterized by elements (meter and rhyme) promoting the processing fluency, a core aspect of neuroaesthetics theories. In addition, given the evidence of different neurophysiological reactions between experts and non-experts in response to artistic stimuli, the aim of the present study was to investigate, in poetry, a different neurophysiological cognitive and emotional reaction between Literature (L) and Non-Literature (NL) students. A further aim was to investigate whether neurophysiological underpinnings would support explanation of behavioral data. Investigation methods employed: self-report assessments (recognition, appreciation, content recall) and neurophysiological indexes (approach/withdrawal (AW), cerebral effort (CE) and galvanic skin response (GSR)). The main behavioral results, according to fluency theories in aesthetics, suggested in the NL but not in the L group that the appreciation/liking went hand by hand with the self-declared recognition and with the content recall. The main neurophysiological results were: (i) higher galvanic skin response in NL, whilst higher CE values in L; (ii) a positive correlation between AW and CE indexes in both groups. The present results extended previous evidence relative to figurative art also to auditory poetry stimuli, suggesting an emotional attenuation "expertise-specific" showed by experts, but increased cognitive processing in response to the stimuli.

Keywords: Divina Commedia; EEG; alpha; frontal alpha asymmetry; frontal theta; neuroaesthetics; neurocognitive poetics; skin conductance response; theta; time.