excerpted from Seeker.com

To examine how poetry affects listeners, Wassiliwizky and his team conducted two experiments. For the first, the researchers monitored the heart, face, and skin hair activity of 27 native German speakers as they listened to recordings of self-selected poems that were deemed to be emotionally powerful. The poems were drawn from a wide span of time, covering everything from Shakespearian sonnets to modern German works.

During chill-inducing moments, the listeners experienced activation of multiple brain regions, including the nucleus accumbens. This is an area of the brain that’s involved in processing rhythm, rewards, and in establishing and testing anticipations. Wassiliwizky noted that listening to music produces different brain activation patterns.

The researchers are not yet certain why poetry and music affect the brain differently, but they suspect that processing the meaning of words in poetry is the key.

“The semantic component is essential for poetry no less than for ordinary language; this component is further amplified by the musical features of poetic language,” Wassiliwizky explained. “Thus, poetry fuses elements of language and music, but is not designed to reach its full power in the absence of semantic meaning.”


Poetry might conversely fall flat on the ears of some listeners, but its innate power to incite a physical response could amplify with exposure and learning. The researchers recommend that poetry should be given more importance in school lessons. Recitations by professional speakers could be helpful, but they say that students should be able to write and recite their own poems as well as those of others.