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Reading a suspenseful literary text activates brain areas related to social cognition and predictive inference

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Moritz Lehne
  • Philipp Engel
  • Martin Rohrmeier
  • Winfried Menninghaus
  • Arthur M Jacobs
  • Stefan Koelsch
Article numbere0124550
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>6/05/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>PLoS ONE
Issue number5
Number of pages18
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.