Bard boosts brain, researchers say

A technique called the "functional shift" in Shakespere's writing stimulates the brain, EEG tests show.

British researchers using modern medical technology have demonstrated whatgenerationsof teachers have told generations of students:Shakespeare is good for you.

Readingparts of Shakespeare's playscauses the brain to become positively excited, researchers from the University of Liverpool said in a release Monday.

In particular, Shakespeare's use of a linguistic technique known as a functional shift, wherea part of speech is employed in an unusual way — anoun might act as a verb, for example — forcesa peak inbrain activity.

"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," saidProf. Philip Davis, from the university'sSchool of English.

He cited the example of the phrase "he godded me" from the tragedy Coriolanus. Because it's an unusual usage, "the brain becomes excited."

The reader understands that a familiar word is being used in an unfamiliar way, said Prof. Neil Roberts, from the university's Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre.

"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," he said.

The two researchers, with Guillaune Thierry from the University of Wales,watched20 participants whohad electrodes linking their scalp toanelectroencephalogram (EEG) while they read selected lines from Shakespeare's works.

When the readers hit a functional shift, the EEG didn'tshow the negative wave modulation produced by a sentence that doesn't make sense, but instead, recorded a positivere-evaluation of the word.

The researchers are now trying to find which areas of the brain are most affected.

Experts have suggested that heightened brain activity may explain why Shakespeare's plays have such a strong effect on readers.