Poetry and the Brain

Did you know that when certain poems are recited aloud, they can induce chills in the listener?

The Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Pedersen Brain Science Institute, explains in a fascinating article: “More Than Words: Why Poetry is Good for Our Health”.

It’s not simply the emotion implicit in the words that causes the chills. It also goes beyond the emotional healing properties of Poetry Therapy. The reason lies in the structure of the brain itself. It is innately highly attuned to rhyme and rhythm in poetry, as evidenced even in newborns in a 2019 Finnish study. “The brain can automatically detect poetic harmonies and patterns even when the reader had not read much poetry before.”

When rhyme and rhythm intensify emotional responses, the chills “activate the brain’s frontal lobe and ventral striatum that are involved with reward and pleasure. The insular cortex, a brain area associated with bodily awareness, was also activated during these moving passages, which may explain why poetry can feel like a full-body experience.”

The article also explains how metaphor plays a significant role. Prose operates in the left hemisphere of the brain. However, “metaphor—making comparisons and drawing connections between different concepts—in particular has been found to activate the right hemisphere of the brain. In times of trauma, our language centers may go offline, making it difficult to fully express ourselves. By activating a different part of the brain through metaphor, poetry may help us again find our voice.”


The full article “More Than Words: Why Poetry is Good for Our Health” is well worth reading and contains numerous links to more detailed discussions of poetry-related material. Just copy and paste the link below into your browser Search Bar: