Study conducted on the neuroscience of “Harry Potter”

A study has recently been conducted regarding what happens to a reader’s brain when they are immersed in a text. An article posted on Fast Company‘s website this morning jokingly refers to the text chosen for the study as

… some obscure fiction series called Harry Potter.

The study is being conducted by a group of psychologists lead by Chun-Ting Hsu, who has a Master’s in Neuroscience. Hsu describes the study as

[the] first attempt to understand the neural mechanisms of immersive reading experience.

To conduct their research, the team of psychologists used neural imaging techniques while test participants read passages from the Potter novels. Participants were asked to read both action passages as well as neutral passages.

According to the article, the results were unsurprising:

As expected, the fearful passages received significantly higher ratings for immersion than the neutral ones—more likely to get readers lost in the book. In the middle cingulate gyrus area of the brain, Hsu and company detected a much stronger link between immersion ratings and neural activity for the fearful passages than for the neutral ones. The middle cingulate gyrus is considered part of the brain’s empathy network and has been associated with pain empathy in particular.

An article regarding the study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal NeuroReport, but it already sounds like the study will receive mixed reviews:

The study struggles at a more basic level… For one thing, most of us associate getting lost in a book with losing perhaps an hour before we know it—four lines just isn’t enough space to simulate the experience. Beyond that, the brain activity spotted in this study arguably speaks much more to the type of passage chosen than to the experience of immersion, per se.

If you are interested in learning more about psychology and Harry Potter check out MuggleNet Academia Episode 29 on social psychology and Harry Potter as well as MuggleNet Academia Episode 11: “The Psychology of Harry Potter.”

Do you find the results of this study surprising? Do you feel like reading action passages in novels is more immersive than reading neutral passages? Let us know in the comments below!