Is the Shape of Your Brain Responsible for Your Genre Selection?

They say you should write what you know. For many writers, dare I say most, the genre they write in is the one that inspired them to become a writer. For me, that is dark fiction. My mother was a fan of horror movies, and I had early exposure to the Universal Classics, Twilight Zone, and movies such as The Omega Man and Alien. By the age of five, my mother was reading me adult short horror fiction. I loved the stuff.

Some would argue my genre selection is a matter of nurture. The exposure to “horror” in an otherwise emotionally positive environment (e.g. time with mom) created a connection between the genre and positive feelings. Recent studies, however, in the field of neural imaging suggest the connection may be in part due to brain shape.

In the past few decades, brain imaging has helped researchers delve deeper and gain a better understanding of what psychologist once considered “that mysterious black box” known as human consciousness. Of course, even with these advances, psychologist still believe that there is no single answer to the mysteries of all psychological behaviors or preferences. And in nature v. nurture debate, we mostly find that it is a combination of the two that results in the output. In my case, my love of the darker stories is a mixture of a predisposition to enjoy them and the early exposure. That makes the most sense when one considers that my two brothers had the same exposure but did not develop the “love” of horror or the pursuit of writing.

And it is in the realm of “predisposition” that scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia may be able to offer some insights.

Using brain imaging devices (MRI and DTI), researchers studied the harmonic wave patterns of brains “at rest.” They discovered that the shape of a participant’s brain influenced the individual harmonic patterns. So like a violin, cello, and bass share the same basic structure and components, but produce different sounds, the differing shapes of our brains also create different “sounds.”

The research is in its early stages, and the exact implications of these differing harmonic waves are yet unknown. But is it possible that the reason readers and authors gravitate to a genre is due to a predisposition toward these harmonics? That is, could the “natural” music of particular words, images, and sounds be enjoyable because they closely match the natural harmonics of our brains?

Interestingly, long before the science, we already had a fairly certain sense that this was true. When asked “why” we enjoy a particular thing, especially  those “things” that include a feeling of deep connection, our  explanation is often: “I don’t know exactly, it just seems to resonate with me.”

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