|How to Change Angry Thoughts
||Our thoughts can make us feel angry, but often people who have a problem with anger do not notice these angry thoughts. It is important in trying to gain control … ...
|How You Might Be Unwittingly Relinquishing Your Power—and How...
||She’s driving me crazy! He doesn’t want to improve our relationship, so there’s nothing I can do. I have to work late. Yet again. I’m not smart. I’m not capable of accomplishing this. I don’t have time for what I really want to do. If … ...
|Are the Results of Animal Therapy Studies Unreliable?
||Most studies of oxytocin ("the love hormone") do not have enough subjects to produce valid results. Unfortunately, this is also true of animal-assisted therapy research.
|Schizophrenia simulator: When chemistry upends sanity's balance
||Schizophrenia goes hand in hand with brain chemistry out of kilter, and treatment options for a major symptom aren't great. Biomedical engineers data-mined the collective scientific knowledge of a major symptom, the disruption of working memory, to build a remarkably accurate simulator that can help researchers and doctors devise new treatments.
|Beautifully Broken: An Invitation to see your Inner Beauty...
||I’m sure it’s strange to hear a man talk about beauty, but I feel like I must. Something about his old house caught my eye as I was walking by … ...
|When Ants Grieve
||Last week I went outside to take my box turtle, Bruce, for a walk. When he finally stopped for a rest, I plopped down on the warm pavement next to … ...
|OCD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)...
||Sleep is often a big issue for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, in over five-and-a-half years of blogging on ocdtalk, my most viewed post, by far, is OCD and … ...
|Today I Love That Music Soothes
||Today I love that when you hurt, music soothes. I love that when you are lost, music will find you. I love that when you need hope, music will tell … ...
|Science (Again) Confirms Trolls Are Terrible Human Beings
||New studies of internet trolls show they are sadistic, psychopathic, and enjoy being cruel to others.
|Is Your Hovering Making Your Kid Crash?
||Ten years ago this September, I packed my only child up and delivered her to college. It wasn’t as complicated as organizing the Normandy invasion but it did require some … ...
|Take Notes to Calm ADHD Overthinking
||For some reason, I tend to overwhelm myself when I’m driving. I think of things while I’m in the car that I need to do, but can’t do because I’m … ...
|Early Soundscapes and the Voiceless Child: Searching for a...
||A Quiet Lack of Meaning There is a kind of aching mystery about a child who has not found her voice by two, by four, by six. These are the children who may be so silent that even a whispered utterance is welcomed. Their inner … ...
|Brains of overweight people 'ten years older' than lean counterparts at middle-age
||From middle-age, the brains of obese individuals display differences in white matter similar to those in lean individuals ten years their senior, according to new research.
|Depression and Men: Why It’s Hard to Ask for Help
||Fans surprised Supernatural star Jared Padalecki at Comic-Con on Sunday, July 12, by lighting candles in the audience — over 7,000 of them — as a thank you for opening up about his struggles with depression and as a tribute to his Always Keep Fighting campaign that … ...
|Is Artistic Inspiration Contagious?
||“The central, final, inescapable fact is that inspired words create life in us because they are themselves alive,” wrote English classical scholar Cecil Maurice Bowra in 1955.
Did he have a point? Is inspiration contagious? Do inspired works of art inspire the audience to create works of their own? There is a long tradition in the humanities that suggests it does. Plato once argued that inspiration is transmitted to the audience through the Muse. Remarkably, however, this has only just been tested scientifically.
In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings.
The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself! As the researchers note, “This finding attests to the power of the written word as a vehicle for sharing the peaks of human experience among individuals separated in time or place.”
The more the writers were inspired, the more an independent group rated the poems as insightful, pleasant, original, and sublime. However, only insightfulness and pleasantness had a positive impact on the inspiration of the average reader. In fact, originality had a negative effect on the inspiration of the average reader. It’s not clear why originality had a negative effect on transmission of inspiration, but one possibility is that originality produces discomfort in the average reader, and might make the reader consciously aware of the separation between the writer and reader.
Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.
Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text. This is interesting, considering that both insightfulness and sublimity roughly correspond to truth and beauty. As the researchers note, “These findings link deeply felt bodily responses of the reader to a deeply felt motivation in writers, suggesting a resonance driven by a shared perception of what is true and sublime about the human experience.”
While poems written by writers who put in more effort were also more inspiring to the reader, effort did not predict any other emotions in the reader, such as awe or chills.
These inspiration contagion findings have far-reaching implications. First, for aspiring writers. Many consider the prospect of writing to be daunting, mostly because it is assumed that good writing requires drudgery and utter originality. Indeed, if thought in that way, writing does sound scary!
However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them. These insights can be valuable and inspiring to the reader whether or not they are also perceived as original or arising from intense effort. As Tolstoy put it:
People are taught how to write many-paged composition, without having anything they wish to say, on a theme about which they have never thought… This is taught in schools.
I really like the “self-as-author” metaphor that the researchers use: “The author confronts a blank page, unsure what to say, and the self struggles with an unwritten future… Both find their voice when inspired, and the author-self, at last, speaks with authority and authenticity.”
Inspirational writing speaks from a deep truth of the person writing it, which is often a deep truth that many of us can resonate with. As a writer, do not view writing as a separate activity, but as an expression of your deepest self and existential experiences.
There are also implications of inspiration contagion for spirituality and sacred texts, academic transmission, and interpersonal communication. We are often inspired by people who say things that we have all wanted to say, but we didn’t have the language to express it. Inspiration contagion also may play a role in both the origins and evolution of culture.
Clearly, the artist cannot be separated from the art. I hope to see more research along these lines. I’ll leave the last word here to the researchers:
The inspired writer participants in the sweep of history, producing a text that is not just valuable but that enlightens, inspired, and raises the hairs on the arms of future generation of thinkers.
© 2016 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved. This piece was originally published by Scientific American.
|What Does the Most Powerful Person in the World Want?
||Perhaps no person anywhere has more responsibilities, more power, or more burdens than the President of the United States. Barack Obama gets precious little sleep. At the end of the … ...
|What’s the Difference between Social Anxiety Disorder and Shyness?...
||Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia as it is also known, is not the same thing as ordinary shyness. But they are frequently confused, both by sufferers and by neurotypical … ...
|Could Binge-Watching with Your Partner Bring You Closer?
||New research suggests that sharing the fictional lives of TV and movie characters with your romantic partner can compensate for lacking shared real world friends.
|The Power of Journaling
||Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin the journey of recovery from traumatic and other difficult experiences, such as abuse, rejection, death, betrayal, abandonment, disaster, loss, or some other type of disturbance that occurs in our lives. There is, however, one tool that … ...
|Curiosity Has the Power to Change Behavior for the Better
||Piquing people’s interest can entice them to choose healthier behaviors over more tempting, unhealthy ones, study finds