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Reading a Suspenseful Literary Text Activates Brain Areas Related to Social Cognition and Predictive Inference

  • Moritz Lehne ,

    mlehne@uos.de

    Affiliation Cluster “Languages of Emotion“, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

  • Philipp Engel,

    Affiliation Cluster “Languages of Emotion“, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

  • Martin Rohrmeier,

    Affiliation Institut für Kunst- und Musikwissenschaft, TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany

  • Winfried Menninghaus,

    Affiliations Cluster “Languages of Emotion“, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

  • Arthur M. Jacobs,

    Affiliations Cluster “Languages of Emotion“, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany, Dahlem Institute for Neuroimaging of Emotion (D. I. N. E.), Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

  • Stefan Koelsch

    Affiliation Cluster “Languages of Emotion“, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Reading a Suspenseful Literary Text Activates Brain Areas Related to Social Cognition and Predictive Inference

  • Moritz Lehne, 
  • Philipp Engel, 
  • Martin Rohrmeier, 
  • Winfried Menninghaus, 
  • Arthur M. Jacobs, 
  • Stefan Koelsch
PLOS
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Abstract

Stories can elicit powerful emotions. A key emotional response to narrative plots (e.g., novels, movies, etc.) is suspense. Suspense appears to build on basic aspects of human cognition such as processes of expectation, anticipation, and prediction. However, the neural processes underlying emotional experiences of suspense have not been previously investigated. We acquired functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data while participants read a suspenseful literary text (E.T.A. Hoffmann's “The Sandman”) subdivided into short text passages. Individual ratings of experienced suspense obtained after each text passage were found to be related to activation in the medial frontal cortex, bilateral frontal regions (along the inferior frontal sulcus), lateral premotor cortex, as well as posterior temporal and temporo-parietal areas. The results indicate that the emotional experience of suspense depends on brain areas associated with social cognition and predictive inference.

Introduction

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills u