Are you a Shakespeare reader? It can cause dramatic effect on brain, says study

Experts believed a heightened brain activity may be one of the reasons why Shakespeare's plays have such a dramatic impact on their readers.

Published: 01st September 2019 08:12 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st September 2019 08:12 PM   |  A+A-

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare. (Photo | Associated Press)


WASHINGTON DC: Researchers found that Shakespearean language excites positive brain activity.

Researchers found that this technique allowed the brain to understand what a word means before it understands the function of the word within a sentence. This process caused a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backward in order to fully understand what Shakespeare is trying to say.

"The brain reacts to reading a phrase such as 'he godded me' from the tragedy of Coriolanus, in a similar way to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. If it is easy to see which pieces slot together you become bored of the game, but if the pieces don't appear to fit, when we know they should, the brain becomes excited," said Professor Philip Davis, from the University's School of English.

"By throwing odd words into seemingly normal sentences, Shakespeare surprises the brain and catches it off guard in a manner that produces a sudden burst of activity - a sense of drama created out of the simplest of things," added professor Davis.

Experts believed that this heightened brain activity may be one of the reasons why Shakespeare's plays have such a dramatic impact on their readers.

"The effect on the brain is a bit like a magic trick; we know what the trick means but not how it happened. Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited," explained Professor Neil Roberts, from the University's Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, (MARIARC).

"The brain signature is relatively uneventful when we understand the meaning of a word but when the word changes the grammar of the whole sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word," said Professor Roberts.

Researchers together with Dr Guillaune Thierry, from the University of Wales, Bangor, monitored 20 participants using an electroencephalogram (EEG) as they read selected lines from Shakespeare's plays.

In this initial test, electrodes were placed on the subject's scalp to measure brain responses.

"EEG gives graph-like measurements and when the brain reads a sentence that does not make semantic sense it registers what we call an N400 effect - a negative wave modulation. When the brain reads a grammatically incorrect sentence it registers a P600 effect - an effect which continues to last after the word that triggered it was first read," said Professor Roberts.

Researchers also found that when participants read the word producing the functional shift there was no N400 effect indicating that the meaning was accepted but a P600 effect was observed which indicates a positive re-evaluation of the word.


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp