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Haiku and the Brain is an interdisciplinary project, bringing together poets and neuro-/cognitive scientists, aiming to investigate the construction of meaning in the process of reading normative, 3-line English-language haiku (ELH) and monoku. Using behavioral, cognitive, and neurocognitive methods (including rating scales, eye-movement recording, pupillometry, electroencephalography [EEG], and functional magnetic-resonance imaging [fMRI]), we aim to explore the value of haiku as paradigmatic material in the study of the construction of poetic/literary meaning and, hopefully, meaning in general. Future extensions of this work may also explore the potential of haiku reading for maintaining, or even enhancing, cognitive function.

Researchers:

Thomas Geyer
Franziska Guenther
Jim Kacian
Rene Liesefeld
Hermann Mueller
Stella Pierides

Sample poems used in our research:

drowned moth —
the wax hardens
around it
     — Jim Kacian, Presents of Mind (Portland OR: Katsura Press, 1996)

night border crossing —
the elephant calf holds
his mother’s tail
     — Sonam Chhoki, Shamrock 26 (2013)

picking stones
from the lentils . . .
winter dusk
     — Mark E. Brager, The Heron’s Nest  XVI.3 (2014)

bruised apples
he wonders what else
I haven’t told him
     — Melissa Allen, Acorn 26 (2011)

photos of her father
in enemy uniform —
the taste of almonds
     — Sandra Simpson, Notes from the Gean 1 (2009)

(All poems reprinted by permission of the authors.)

 

‘Heatmap’-type illustration of the distribution of fixational ‘dwell’ times across a three-line haiku, produced by one participant in Müller et al. (2017); the redder the color, the longer this reader dwelled on the respective parts (words) of the haiku. As can be seen, the reader spent more time viewing the fragment line (line 1), compared the each of the two phrase lines (lines 2 and 3), of the haiku. This pattern, referred to as a ‘cut effect’, is seen with both context-action haiku and juxtaposition haiku, whether the cut is positioned at the end of line 1 or the end of line 2. The haiku depicted is by Sonam Chhoki.

 

Publications:

Article: Müller, H., Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, J., & Pierides, S. (2017). “Reading English-language haiku: Processes of meaning construction revealed by eye movements.” Journal of Eye Movement Research 10.1.

Article: Pierides, S., Müller, H., Kacian, J., Günther, F., & Geyer, T. (2017). “Haiku and the brain: an exploratory study.” Juxtapositions: A Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship 3.1.

Book Chapter: Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, J., Müller, H. J., & Pierides, S. (2017). “Reading haiku: What eye movements reveal about the construction of literary meaning – an exploratory study.” In T. Lachmann & T. Weis (eds.), Invariances in Human Information Processing. New York & London: Routledge.

Presentation: Günther, F., Müller, H., Geyer, T., Kacian, J., & Pierides, S., “Exploring meaning construction in readers of English-language Haiku: An eye-tracking study.” At the Symposium at the European Conference on Eye Movements (ECEM, Wuppertal, Germany) 2017: “Eye movements during the reading of narrative and poetic text”.

Article: Pierides, S., Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, j., Liesefeld, H. R., and Müller H. J. (2019) “Knocking on the Doors of Perception.” Juxtapositions: Research and Scholarship in Haiku 5.1.

Article: Geyer, T., Günther, F., Müller, H.J., Kacian, J., Liesefeld, H.R., & Pierides, S. (2020). “Reading English-language haiku: An eye-movement study of the ‘cut effect’.” Journal of Eye Movement Research 13 [Special Issue Eye Tracking and Visual Arts].

 

Abstracts:

Müller, H., Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, J., & Pierides, S. (2017). Reading English-Language Haiku: Processes of Meaning Construction Revealed by Eye Movements. Journal of Eye Movement Research 10.1.

Abstract: In the present study, poets and cognitive scientists came together to investigate the construction of meaning in the process of reading normative, 3-line English-language haiku (ELH), as found in leading ELH journals. The particular haiku which we presented to our readers consisted of two semantically separable parts, or images, that were set in a ‘tense’ relationship by the poet. In our sample of poems, the division, or cut, between the two parts was positioned either after line 1 or after line 2; and the images related to each other in terms of either a context–action association (context–action haiku) or a conceptually more abstract association (juxtaposition haiku). From a constructivist perspective, understanding such haiku would require the reader to integrate these parts into a coherent ‘meaning Gestalt’, mentally (re-)creating the pattern intended by the poet (or one from within the poem’s meaning potential). To examine this process, we recorded readers’ eye movements, and we obtained measures of memory for the read poems as well as subjective ratings of comprehension difficulty and understanding achieved. The results indicate that processes of meaning construction are reflected in patterns of eye movements during reading (1st-pass) and re-reading (2nd- and 3rd-pass). From those, the position of the cut (after line 1 vs. after line 2) and, to some extent, the type of haiku (context–action vs. juxtaposition) can be ‘recovered’. Moreover, post-reading, readers tended to explicitly recognize a particular haiku they had read if they had been able to understand the poem, pointing to a role of actually resolving the haiku’s meaning (rather than just attempting to resolve it) for memory consolidation and subsequent retrieval. Taken together, these first findings are promising, suggesting that haiku can be a paradigmatic material for studying meaning construction during poetry reading.

Pierides, S., Müller, H., Kacian, J., Günther, F., Geyer, T. (2017). Haiku and the Brain: An Exploratory Study. Juxtapositions: The Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship 3.1

Abstract: This paper presents the first results of an interdisciplinary project, bringing together haiku poets and neuro-/cognitive scientists, to investigate the reading of English-language haiku (ELH) as a potentially paradigmatic material for studying the reception of poetic texts. Our pilot study was based on the ‘eye-mind assumption’, that where and for how long we gaze at sections of text reflects processes of information harvesting for meaning construction. The results indicate that the interactive process between the poem and the reader gives rise to characteristic patterns of eye movements (saccades and fixations) across the text from which (i) the position of the cut (after line 1 vs. after line 2) and (ii) the type of haiku (context-action vs. juxtaposition) can be discerned. Finding (i) is of special importance: it provides evidence that the effect intended by the poet can indeed be traced in oculomotor behavior and that, thus, the cut is indeed a potent poetic/stylistic device with a specific effect in the reader. Moreover, readers’ recognition memory was found to be associated with more explicit, conscious-recollective experience of having read a particular haiku if the poem was self-rated to be understood. This suggests that the realization of the haiku’s ‘meaning gestalt’ in the reader’s mind, which may be associated with an ‘aha’ experience, is important for memory consolidation and remembering. Albeit tentative, these findings and conclusions open up interesting lines for future, interdisciplinary research.

Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, J., Müller, H. J., & Pierides, S. (2018). “Reading Haiku: What Eye Movements Reveal About the Construction of Literary Meaning – A Pilot Study.” In T. Lachmann & T. Weis (eds.), Invariances in Human Information Processing. New York & London: Routledge (pp. 249-276).

Abstract: The present study, arising from the co-operation between poets and cognitive scientists, was designed as a pilot experiment to investigate the construction of literary meaning in the process of reading normative English-language, three- line haiku. To this end, the readers’ eye movements were recorded, and (subjective) measures of memory for the read poems as well as subjective ratings of comprehension difficulty and understanding achieved were obtained. The results indicate that, out of the elements created by the poet and placed into a dynamic relation- ship, skillfully using such techniques as juxtaposition of images and caesura, or cut, the reader is invited to unravel the significance of the moment the poet presents, i.e., to reconstruct the experience/construct his/her own meaning. This interactive process between the poem and the reader gives rise to a characteristic pattern of saccades and fixations across the text, from which the type of haiku (context-action vs. juxtaposition) and the position of the cut (after line 1 vs. after line 2) can be predicted. Moreover, readers’ recognition memory was found to be associated with more explicit, conscious-recollective experience of having read a particular haiku if they had been able to understand the poem. This suggests that the ‘aha’ experience, the realization of the haiku’s ‘meaning gestalt’ in the reader’s mind, is important for memory consolidation and subsequent retrieval. Limitations of the present approach are discussed and directions for future work are outlined.

Günther, F., Müller, H., Geyer, T., Kacian, J., & Pierides, S., “Exploring meaning construction in readers of English-language Haiku: An eye-tracking study” at the Symposium at the ECEM 2017: “Eye movements during the reading of narrative and poetic text”

Abstract: The present study – by poets and cognitive scientists – investigated the construction of meaning when reading normative, 3-line English-language haiku (ELH; Müller et al., JEMR, 10(1), 2017). A central design feature of ELH is the presence of a cut (either after line 1 or line 2) and the consequent juxtaposition of two images, which relate to each other in terms of either a context–action association or a conceptually more abstract association (context–action vs. juxtaposition haiku). Understanding such haiku requires readers to resolve the tension between the two parts of the poem, i.e., to integrate the two parts (images) into a coherent ‘meaning Gestalt’.
To examine this process, we recorded readers’ eye movements. The results indicate that processes of meaning construction are reflected in patterns of eye movements during reading (1st-pass) and re-reading (2nd- and 3rd-pass). From those, the position of the cut (after line 1 vs. line 2) and, to some extent, the type of haiku (context–action vs. juxtaposition) can be ‘recovered’. Moreover, results from a recognition memory test indicate that actually resolving the haiku’s meaning plays a role for later, explicit memory retrieval. These findings suggest haiku as an apt material for studying processes of meaning construction during poetry reading.

Pierides, S., Geyer, T., Günther, F., Kacian, j., Liesefeld, H. R., and Müller H. J. (2019) “Knocking on the Doors of Perception.” Juxtapositions: Research and Scholarship in Haiku 5.1.

Abstract: Haiku has been shown to be fruitful material in investigating the manner in which we come to appreciate poetic and literary texts, providing a promising path for understanding the neuro-cognitive processes of poetry reading. The latter accolade, by way of our first study, has now found further evidence in our second series of tests, which repeated and extended the first. Specifically, the use of the ‘cut’ in haiku creates a recognizable trace which is reflected in the pattern of eye movements that readers make in their efforts to understand the poem – with the eye movements telling us where attention, and mental effort, is focused during initial reading and re-reading. Our new findings show that the use of explicit punctuation to mark the cut in haiku (such as dashes and ellipses) modifies the eye-movement pattern in characteristic ways compared to poems with unmarked cuts. Following a sketch and discussion of the new findings and their implications for understanding how we read haiku, we consider a number of interesting questions and methodological approaches for further research on how the ‘mind-brain’ constructs poetic meaning.

Geyer, T., Günther, F., Müller, H.J., Kacian, J., Liesefeld, H.R., & Pierides, S. (2020). “Reading English-language haiku: An eye-movement study of the ‘cut effect’.” Journal of Eye Movement Research 13 [Special Issue Eye Tracking and Visual Arts].

Abstract:The current study, set within the larger enterprise of Neuro-Cognitive Poetics, was designed to examine how readers deal with the ‘cut’ – a more or less sharp semantic-conceptual break — in normative, three-line English-language haiku poems (ELH). Readers were presented with three-line haiku that consisted of two (seemingly) disparate parts, a (two-line) ‘phrase’ image and a one-line ‘fragment’ image, in order to determine how they process the conceptual gap between these images when constructing the poem’s meaning – as reflected in their patterns of reading eye movements. In addition to replicating the basic ‘cut effect’, i.e., the extended fixation dwell time on the fragment line relative to the other lines, the present study examined (a) how this effect is influenced by whether the cut is purely implicit or explicitly marked by punctuation, and (b) whether the effect pattern could be delineated against a control condition of ‘uncut’, one-image haiku. For ‘cut’ vs. ‘uncut’ haiku, the results revealed the distribution of fixations across the poems to be modulated by the position of the cut (after line 1 vs. after line 2), the presence vs. absence of a cut marker, and the semantic-conceptual distance between the two images (context–action vs. juxtaposition haiku). These formal-structural and conceptual-semantic properties were associated with systematic changes in how individual poem lines were scanned at first reading and then (selectively) re-sampled in second- and third-pass reading to construct and check global meaning. No such effects were found for one-image (control) haiku. We attribute this pattern to the operation of different meaning resolution processes during the comprehension of two-image haiku, which are invoked by both form- and meaning-related features of the poems.

The Haiku and the Brain project has joined the Interdisciplinary Center for Cognitive Language Studies (ICCLS), an international network of scientists based at the Ludwig Maximilan University (LMU) Munich. ICCLS offers researchers from a variety of disciplines and institutions, a platform for intensive exchange of ideas, and interdisciplinary working-together on research projects.

See the website url here


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