FYI: Reading Shakespeare Makes You Smarter


Good news, English majors! Your snobbery has been justified. According to an article over at Big Think, reading or hearing the pretty language of Shakespeare actually engages parts of your brain that just hearing plain old normal words does not, and therefore could improve (or at least maintain over time) brain ability. Professor Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool’s School of English studies the way Shakespeare’s language creates ‘functional shifts’ within our brains — that is, he tracks the way our brains react biochemically when Shakespeare ‘misuses’ or makes up words. This, by turn, can “shift mental pathways and open possibilities” for the brain’s ability, and you know, make you smarter. Click through for more, so you can brag to your friends.

According to the Shakespeare enthusiasts over at Big Think,

One type of measured brain responses is called an M400, which occurs 400 milliseconds after the brain experiences a thought or perception. This is considered a normal response. On the other hand, a P600 response indicates a peak in brain activity 600 milliseconds after the brain experiences a quite different type of thought or perception. Davis describes the P600 response as the “Wow Effect,” in which the brain is excited, and is put in “a state of hesitating consciousness.”

Obviously, when you read or hear Shakespeare, your P600s go through the roof. Basically, like any linguistics professor might tell you, it all comes down to parts of speech. Shakespeare tends to ‘misuse’ words by using them in traditionally incorrect ways — that is, using an adjective as a verb (‘thick my blood‘) a pronoun as a noun (‘the cruellest she alive‘) or a noun as a verb (‘He childed as I fathered‘). Frighteningly, Davis predicts that without this kind of creative language, you could experience ‘a gradual deadening of the brain.’ Better dig out that Norton Complete Shakespeare, kids.