Lindsey Grubbs is a PhD student in the English Department at Emory University, where she is also working on a certificate in bioethics. She holds a master’s degree in English and gender studies from the University of Wyoming. She is interested in the relationship between literature and science, and works with American literature from the nineteenth century until today to interrogate and complicate the boundaries between health and wellness, normalcy and aberrance, and physical and mental complaints.
As neuroscientists begin to approach topics usually falling under the purview of other specialties, how can they ethically incorporate various forms of knowledge rather than provide simplified metrics that will, in a data hungry society, be easier for most to latch onto?
In 2013, we saw the publication of at least two high profile studies claiming neuroscientific proof for the potential moral benefits of reading fiction. Greg Berns and his associates published “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain” in Brain Connectivity (Berns, Blaine, Prietula, & Pye, 2013), and David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano published “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind” in Science (Kidd & Castano, 2013). The Berns article makes a relatively modest claim: the day after an evening session reading a novel, test subjects had short-term increased brain connectivity in areas of the brain associated with taking perspectives and understanding narratives, and longer-term connectivity that lasted several days in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, which the authors suggest could help explain the mechanism of “embodied semantics,” the idea that there is somatosensory involvement in the processing of language, as when tactile metaphors like “I had a rough day” activate the somatosensory cortex (Lacey, Stilla, & Sathian, 2012). As suggested by its title, the Kidd and Castano piece makes a more dramatic claim: the authors conducted five experiments and write that reading award-winning literary fiction improves subjects’ theory of mind both alone and in comparison to nonfiction or popular bestselling fiction. The reaction to these studies in the press follows the trend of a mania for neuroscientific evidence and colorful images of the brain1. Why is it necessary, though, to grant scientific authority more weight as evidence than other forms of knowledge?
|Via The Wire|