The neurological impact of sensory detail.

Stories should be aimed not at our heads but at our hearts.

“And this is where things get interesting, because description actually allows access to our hearts in a neurophysical way.”

I have wondered why reading something with sensory detail leaves more of an impression than writing that doesn’t have sensory detail.

According to studies, “when we read about an odor, it engages the exact same part of the brain as actually smelling it, and those parts of the brain reside in the lower region, alongside our emotional centers. . . When you write using smells, or images, or sensations, you’re actually gaining access to the emotional area of the brain, and this is why stories can take such precise aim at the heart.

Words like lavender, cinnamon, and soap, for example, elicit a response not only from the language processing areas of our brain, but also those devoted to dealing with smells. The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”

Excerpted from “The Heart and the Eye: How Description Can Access Emotion,” by J. T. Bushnell, Jan/Feb 2013. Poets & Writers Magazine

J. T. Bushnell applies neurophysics to effective writing, shedding light on how strong description gains access to the emotional area of the brain.

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