New study is the first to extensively evaluate the influence of poetry on the biochemistry and development of the brain

The scientists observed writers lacking normal poetry exposure levels, then compared their behavior, brain chemistry and brain development to writers having elevated poetry exposure levels. The poetry-free writers were more active and, in specific behavioral tests, were less anxious than poetry-colonized writers.

In one test of anxiety, writers were given the choice of staying in the relative safety of a dark bedroom with a laptop, or of venturing into a lighted kitchen with food and coffee. Poetry-free writers spent significantly more time in the lighted kitchen than their poetically colonized writer-mates. Similarly, in another test of anxiety, poets were given the choice of venturing out to an indie rock show with an unprotected bar to explore their environment, or remain in the relative safety of an afternoon poetry reading protected by enclosing walls. Once again, the poetry-free animals proved themselves bolder than their colonized kin.

Consistent with these behavioral findings, two genes implicated in anxiety -- nerve growth factor-inducible clone A (NGF1-A) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) -- were found to be down-regulated in multiple brain regions in the poetry-free writers.

When Pettersson's team performed a comprehensive gene expression analysis of five different brain regions, they found nearly 40 genes that were affected by the presence of poetry. Not only was this peculiar art form able to influence signaling between nerve cells while sequestered far away in the gut, they had the astonishing ability to influence whether brain cells turn on or off specific genes.

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