Neurocomputational Poetics

Neurocomputational Poetics

How the Brain Processes Verbal Art

By Arthur Jacobs

Anthem Studies in Bibliotherapy and Well-Being

This book introduces a new thrilling field– neuro computational poetics, the scientific ‘marriage’ between cognitive poetics, data science and neuroscience – that aims at uncovering the secrets of verbal art reception.

Hardback, 288 Pages


November 2023

£80.00, $110.00

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About This Book

This book introduces a new thrilling field–neurocomputional poetics, the scientific ‘marriage’ between cognitive poetics, data science and neuroscience. Its goal is to uncover the secrets of verbal art reception and to explain how readers come to understand and like literary texts. For centuries verbal art reception was considered too subjective for quantitative scientific studies and still nowadays many scholars in the humanities and neurosciences alike view literary reading as too complex for accurate computational prediction of the neuronal, experiential and behavioural aspects of reader responses to texts. This book sets out for changing this view. 

It offers state-of-the-art computational models and methods allowing to predict which crucial textual features of prose and poetry, such as syntactic and semantic complexity or emotion potential, interact with reader features, such as empathy or openness to experience, in shaping a literary reading act. It contains hands-on practical examples on how to do computational text analyses of books and poems that can answer questions like: 

  • Which is Jane Austen’s most beautiful book?
  • Which poet created the most fitting poetic metaphors? or
  • Which author of plays of the nineteenth century was the most literary?

The book’s first chapter about ‘The Two Boons of an Unnatural Daily Activity’ discusses the neuronal bases and other relevant aspects of immersive and aesthetic processes evoked by reading prose and poetry. In the second chapter, the author introduces a comprehensive model of verbal art reception that can explain what makes texts comprehensible and likeable and how they affect our body and mind. The model makes explicit important differences between the reading of prose and poetry and clarifies which text features make prose more immersive and poetry more aesthetic. The next two chapters discuss state-of-the-art methods for quantitative text, reader and reading act analyses from cognitive poetics, data science, psychology and neuroscience and shows how they can be used to dissect the complex author-text-reader nexus that shapes verbal art reception.

Chapters 5 and 6 then present hands-on practical examples on how to do simple and sophisticated computational text analyses including sentiment and topic analyses, cutting-edge machine learning methods, and multivariate predictive modeling using neural nets. Chapters 7 and 8 of the book then present a representative sample of empirical studies in both computational and neurocognitive poetics the author and his collaborators have carried out during the last decade. The results of these studies provide comprehensive insights into the complex workings of the brain during verbal art reception from the processing of single words and sentences to the aesthetic evaluation of metaphors or entire poems and novels, including a qualitative-quantitative analysis of the reading of Shakespeare sonnets that will change the ways of scientific studies of literature. The book ends with a short chapter about conclusions and future developments.

The model and methods introduced in the book offer game-changing insights for both fundamental and applied science that will affect standard metrics of readability and the way text processing and verbal art reception are viewed in literary studies, education, psychology or the media sciences.


This is a seminal and ground-breaking work that will hold a special interest for psychology students, researchers and practitioners in the field of cognitive psychology and verbal communications. -- Midwest

“This is a game-changing book which opens up the middle ground of reading, finding ways of connecting the details of the text to the cognitive and neurological structures which we bring as readers, all the way from individual sounds up to whole plot structures. It combines brain science, linguistics, and literary criticism and throughout demonstrates how experimental methods can open up new ways of understanding old problems.” -- Nigel Fabb, University of Strathclyde, UK.

"A pioneer in the study of how literary works stir our emotions and transport us to faraway worlds, Jacobs recounts his decades-long personal journey that, through neuroscience and computational linguistics, culminates in a fascinating account of how this magic happens." -- Emanuele Castano, University of Trento and The Institute for Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, CNR, Italy

“How does the brain make books light up so that we can’t stop reading? Arthur Jacobs embarks on a scientific journey to the principles of poetics and reveals nothing less than the natural history of our passions. His extraordinary neurocomputational approach makes this book a worthy successor to Roman Jacobson’s Poetics in the 21st Century.” — Gerhard Lauer, Book and Reading Studies, Gutenberg University of Mainz

Author Information

Arthur Jacobs is Professor of Experimental and Neurocognitive Psychology at Freie Universität Berlin (FUB). He is (co-)author of more than 250 scientific publications in the fields of reading research, psycholinguistics, affective neuroscience and neurocognitive poetics, among which is the book Gehirn und Gedicht (Brain and Poetry, 2011; with R. Schrott).


Anthem Studies in Bibliotherapy and Well-Being

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Preface; 1. Introduction: The Two Boons of an Unnatural Daily Activity; 2. Models and Methods; 3. Text Analysis; 4. Reader and Reading Act Analysis; 5. Computational Poetics I: Simple Applications; 6. Computational Poetics II: Sophisticated Applications; 7. Neurocomputational Poetics I: Upper Route Studies; 8. Neurocomputational Poetics II: Lower Route Studies; 9. Conclusions; References; Index


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