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Haiku and the Brain — An Update

Towards the end of last year we completed collecting data from an experiment designed to replicate and extend our previous study reported in Juxta, in JEMR, and in Invariances in Human Information Processing.

In the new study, we systematically compared haiku of the juxtaposition and context/action types — including conditions with and without cut-markers — in order to understand how encountering the cut affects our reading of haiku.

This time, we also presented our readers with haiku without a cut as a control condition, allowing us to examine for special cut effects against this baseline. Our initial analyses of the new data have been promising, and indeed better than expected!

We are now analyzing the eye movement data, and drafting a paper to present and discuss our new findings with the poetry and science communities. First results show that the basic effects we found in our exploratory study, in particular the extended dwell time on the fragment, can be reliably replicated.

In addition to eye-movements, we recorded brain data using EEG while our participants were reading haiku. This generated a phenomenal amount of data that we will be looking into once we have achieved a good understanding of the eye-movement results: we will be using the latter to guide our looking for brain signatures of the cut effects.

The whole process has taken longer than we envisaged, partly due to the complexity of the experiment but also, largely, the demands of our day-jobs (e.g. the ongoing need to apply for research grants). But we are getting there.

Our first, tentative results of this work have already become available. Further studies, including the measurement of brain activity, are under way. For the broader objectives of this project, the methods employed, results obtained to date, publication abstracts, and the people involved, visit our Haiku and the Brain page.

— Stella Pierides, for the Haiku and the Brain Team: Thomas Geyer, Franziska Guenther, Jim Kacian, Rene Liesefeld, Hermann Mueller

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. all this brain stimulation has dislodged an old word that i haven’t used since the middle of last century: “neato”

  2. Is there any evidence to suggest differences between those who a reading haiku for the first time and may not know what to expect and ‘seasoned’ haiku readers/practitioners who know the expected structure?

    1. Good question, John! For our project, we only tested inexperienced readers, and wondered about the same issue — including the question whether inexperienced readers develop ways of approaching the haiku during testing, as they are presented with a good number of them.

      We know seasoned readers are using reading ‘strategies,’ but exactly how these are expressed in eye-movement behaviour is unknown and deserves a study in its own right. We hope in the future to be able to compare results from novice readers with those gathered from experienced haiku readers. Unfortunately, there are not many native English expert haiku readers readily available for us to study in Munich, but this is a long-term project…

    1. Hi Marietta,
      Many thanks for reading! The question of an appropriate control condition is a difficult one. As in the new study we were particularly interested in the question of what happens when a reader encounters a cut, this time we used haiku without a cut as a control condition. We also controlled for a number of other variables, e.g. linguistic factors, such as word frequency, syntactic complexity, etc.

  3. Thank you for the enlightening research !

    Brain studies brain …
    Reveals herself to herself,

    (I chose feminine reflexive pronoun for brain ☺️)

  4. Extraordinary. I have loved your work since first reading “The Haiku Anthology” … third edition.

    1. i hope i’m not being presumptuous when i take you to mean me here, edwin, and thank you for the kind thoughts.

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