Monday, February 9, 2015

The Brain Science Behind How and Why We Write, Annaliisa Gifford



For a while, earlier this week I struggled with what to write about for Illuminations. Should I perhaps cover a new photographer, a development in film? But the one thing I’ve been thinking about more than anything lately is the human brain and it’s beauty. How could I illuminate what I’m learning in my classes about the brain and incorporate what we, here at the Boylan office, love so much: writing?

I became passionate about neuroscience about two years ago when my father was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. He was one of my greatest influences as a writer since he was a skilled writer himself. Ever since I was young I was impressed by his ability as a research scientist and author. I believe if I keep writing with discipline I can one day research the brain thoroughly and help people with similar conditions.

Then today I came across this wonderful article by the New York Times that illustrated fairly perfectly the conclusion I wanted to come to concerning this blog entry. The brain and writing are intricately woven together. We use our brain like an expertly machined muscle for the writing that we dedicate ourselves to. The more we exercise these muscles and synapses within our brain, the stronger and more developed our stories and articulations become.

Carl Zimmer of the New York Times penned the article titled, “This is Your Brain on Writing,” on June 20, 2014. Zimmer details how “neuroscientists have used fMRI scanners to track the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers as they sat down — or, in this case, lay down — to turn out a piece of fiction” (Zimmer, This is Your Brain on Writing). The underlying effects this could have on the science of creative writing is overwhelming and arguably greatly underappreciated in the scientific community. We (as a research community and general populace of writers) can begin to track the neural connectivity and movement of blood flow in the brain. Blood flow in the brain is directly correlated to which areas are using more oxygen and fuel. So the more blood in an area during writing means it’s active and aware during the process. Electrical impulses are being fired and neuronal messages are being sent.

Sorry if this sounds like a lot of brain nonsensical jargon to you guys, but stay with me, you’ll see where it gets cool.

Zimmer’s article continues with an explanation of a recent study done on creative writing. Scientists at The University of Griefswald in Germany, along with Dr. Martin Lotze, began recruiting volunteers and advanced creative writers for their fMRI studies. They observed the brain activity of individuals when involved in simple tasks like copying text, and then more advanced activities such as creating a fiction story. The researchers began noticing several important areas that were being utilized during these activities. The visual area of the brain became active-implying that individuals were creating inner visual maps or scenes during the creating process. Other areas were utilized as well such as “the hippocampus, [which] was retrieving factual information that the volunteers could use” (Zimmer, This is Your Brain on Writing).

These studies, and others like it, could mean so much to creative writing therapists as well. We all know that after a good writing session, we often feel refreshed and regenerated. Exploring the science around these effects will increase our knowledge about how to best utilize these approaches to heal other psychological diseases and problems. I hope I’ve illuminated you all to a little neuroscience behind you’re beautifully crafted poems and metaphors today. Keep firing those neurons, Boylan readers!

Best, Annaliisa

Works Cited:
Carl Zimmer, “This is Your Brain on Writing.” New York Times, February 20, 2014.

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