This Is Your Brain On Engagement
At Conduit, “engagement” runs through our minds all day. We constantly think about what it takes to engage users, how publishers can do a better job of achieving it, and how technology can be a catalyst for driving more engagement.
So naturally, we were fascinated by a story that ran on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on Tuesday, which recounted some brain research into what engagement actually means from a neurological perspective.
To explore that question, researchers conducted a study that looked at how reading literature can affect the brain. Participants were each given a copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and were asked to read the novel in two different ways: first by scanning the book as you might if you picked it up in a bookstore, and then by reading carefully and intently, as if you were going to write an essay about it.
Meanwhile, their brains were being scanned by an fMRI, a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine that captures neural activity in real time.
The researchers were surprised by the results. They had expected subtle effects in the regions that are responsible for attention. But they found something much deeper. Something all of us who have been profoundly engaged by a book know on a personal level. They found that vast areas of the brain — not just those responsible for attention — were activated by the reading experience which involved real concentration.
The NPR story called it a “neuroscientific plot twist,” quoting the researchers’ reactions to the preliminary results:
“What's been taking us by surprise in our early data analysis is how much the whole brain — global activations across a number of different regions — seems to be transforming and shifting between the pleasure and the close reading."
The researchers concluded that reading something that captures our imagination can light up “unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story...”
Wow. When engagement is at its deepest, it shuts out all other distractions and thoughts buzzing around in the back of our minds, and puts the whole brain to work. That’s a goal for those of us who are committed to engaging people — writers, filmmakers, artists, product people at Conduit — to strive for.