Literary Cognition

From 2012-2014, I served as undergraduate lab manager for the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition (DHLC) lab at Michigan State University. The DHLC lab is an interdisciplinary center for collaborative research on literary neuroscience and the history of cognition. My primary project was an effort to identify neural signatures involved in focused reading.

Our experiment utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye-tracking technologies to examine brain mechanisms engaged by the attentive perusal (or “close reading”) of a literary work versus reading for pleasure. In an MRI scanner, 18 subjects with backgrounds in literary studies read passages from Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park in a block-design paradigm, which alternated relaxed “pleasure reading” blocks with passages designated for "close reading". In the latter, subjects were told to read critically, paying attention to structure and literary technique, concluding with the composition of a short essay. Activation during reading blocks was measured via full-brain scan. Early results showed strong cognitive differences between close reading and pleasure reading. During close reading, individual subjects displayed almost global changes in activation, including, in one example, heightened activity in brain areas we use to place ourselves in the world, as well as those dedicated to motor function. This suggests that we may bring fundamentally different types of attention to the reading of a work of literature, which carries implications for the value of teaching close reading techniques. The study also served as a model for interdisciplinary experiment design and data analysis, involving a team of researchers that included literary scholars, neuroscientists, and MR physicists.

 

Conferences & Workshops

C. Pearson, K. Mayfield, and A. Garzaniti. Functional Regions Activated by Literary Reading: An fMRI Study. University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Oral Presentation. April 2014.
*First Place Presentation Award
 
N. Phillips, C. Pearson, K. Mayfield, S. Kothari, and K. Grimes. Your Brain on Jane Austen: An Interdisciplinary Experiment on Literature, Attention, and Reading. Department of English Fulbright Scholars Roundtable. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Presentation. August 2013. 
 
N. Phillips, C. Pearson, T. Silvasi, K. Mayfield, S. Kothari, P. Fouty, and R. Dougherty. Literature, Attention, and the Neuroscience of Reading: fMRI Shows Heightened Brain Activation in Close Reading of Jane Austen. Michigan Chapter Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting. Detroit, MI. Poster. May 2013. 
 
C. Pearson and T. Silvasi. Neuroscience of Reading: fMRI Shows Heightened Brain Activation in Close Reading of Jane Austen. University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Oral Presentation. April 2013.
*First Place Presentation Award
 
C. Pearson, N. Phillips, S. Holdsworth, and R. Dougherty. Literature, Attention, and the Neuroscience of Reading: fMRI Shows Heightened Brain Activation in Close Reading of Jane Austen. National Collegiate Research Conference. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Poster. January 2013. 
 
N. Phillips, C. Pearson, E. Beard, A. Hankes, D. Kaiser, D. Jenson, S. Keen, and L. Harris. The Neuroscience of Empathy: The Influence of Trauma Narratives on Empathetic Response for Service Learning. New Frontiers in Cognitive, Evolutionary, and Computational Models of the Mind (workshop). Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Poster. December 2012. 
 
N. Phillips, S. Holdsworth, C. Pearson, E. Beard, P. Fouty, K. Grimes, and R. Dougherty. Literature, Attention, and the Neuroscience of Reading: An fMRI Analysis of Studying Jane Austen. New Frontiers in Cognitive, Evolutionary, and Computational Models of the Mind (workshop). Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Poster. December 2012. 
 
C. Pearson. Jane Austen and Bone Implants: Designing an Interdisciplinary Experience at the University of Cambridge. 1st Annual Learning Abroad Conference. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Oral Presentation. November 2012. 

C. Pearson and N. Phillips. Measuring Real-Time Brain Activity: The Physics of fMRI and an Experimental Design. Lyman Briggs College Research Symposium. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Poster. April 2012.