Wednesday 16 July 2008

Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts

A symposium was held on Literary Reading and Emotion on the 13th and 14th of July 2008, at the recently founded Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts, in Heath, Massachusetts. The aim of the Institute is to sponsor and promote research in cognitive science and the arts. It was founded by Don Freeman, Margaret Freeman, and Mark Turner, and those attending the symposium, with Don and Margaret Freeman (who hosted it), were, in alphabetical order: Jan Auracher, Sally Banes, Nöel Carroll, Ellen Dissanayake, David Miall, Keith Oatley, Evelina Simanonyte, Reuven Tsur, and Willie van Peer.

This first symposium at the Institute, in the form of a think-tank conceived by David Miall and Willie van Peer, was devoted largely to understanding the role of emotions in literature, where emotions of the author, of the reader, and in the text itself, were considered. In poetry and some prose works, metrical and phonetic properties of a text enable foregrounding, and can also themselves have emotional effects. One formulation we reached was that literariness involves not only a recognition of something special by means of the language of a literary text, but that metrical and phonetic attributes are able to set up a frame that can act in counterpoint to the semantics of what is read. This kind of counterpoint can contribute to the destabilization of habitual expectations followed by a reformulation—a sequence that has the form of an emotion—which thus can add to the freshness and emotional qualities of what is read.

The group is working on a manifesto that expresses dissatisfaction with traditional, single-disciplinary, approaches to studying the arts, and proposing an interdisciplinary approach that includes empirical research, philosophy, and evolutionary considerations. In this new approach, the focus moves from interpretation of works of art to the experience of them. When the manifesto is produced we will post a link to it on this site.


Kirsten Valentine Cadieux said...

This is fascinating -- and provides context for an article that Raymond just passed along from Psychological Science (reference below), a potential example of such an interdisciplinary approach to art and interpretation.

Sweet Silent Thought: Alliteration and Resonance in Poetry Comprehension (2008, Volume 19, Issue 7, Pages 709-716)

R. Brooke Lea (Psychology, Macalester College), David N. Rapp (Psychology, Northwestern University), Andrew Elfenbein (English, University of Minnesota), Aaron D. Mitchel (The Pennsylvania State University), and Russell Swinburne Romine (National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota)

ABSTRACT—Poetic devices like alliteration can heighten readers' aesthetic experiences and enhance poets' recall of their epic pieces. The effects of such devices on memory for and appreciation of poetry are well known; however, the mechanisms underlying these effects are not yet understood. We used current theories of language comprehension as a framework for understanding how alliteration affects comprehension processes. Across three experiments, alliterative cues reactivated readers' memories for previous information when it was phonologically similar to the cue. These effects were obtained when participants read aloud and when they read silently, and with poetry and prose. The results support everyday intuitions about the effects of poetry and aesthetics, and explain the nature of such effects. These findings extend the scope of general memory models by indicating their capacity to explain the influence of nonsemantic discourse features.

Address correspondence to Brooke Lea, Department of Psychology, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105, e-mail: lea at macalester dot edu

Anonymous said...

This is great info to know.

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