Aesthetic appreciation of poetry correlates with ease of processing in event-related potentials

Christian Obermeier, Sonja A. Kotz*, Sarah Jessen, Tim Raettig, Martin von Koppenfels, Winfried Menninghaus

*Corresponding author for this work
9 Citations (Scopus)


Rhetorical theory suggests that rhythmic and metrical features of language substantially contribute to persuading, moving, and pleasing an audience. A potential explanation of these effects is offered by “cognitive fluency theory,” which stipulates that recurring patterns (e.g., meter) enhance perceptual fluency and can lead to greater aesthetic appreciation. In this article, we explore these two assertions by investigating the effects of meter and rhyme in the reception of poetry by means of event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Participants listened to four versions of lyrical stanzas that varied in terms of meter and rhyme, and rated the stanzas for rhythmicity and aesthetic liking. The behavioral and ERP results were in accord with enhanced liking and rhythmicity ratings for metered and rhyming stanzas. The metered and rhyming stanzas elicited smaller N400/P600 ERP responses than their nonmetered, nonrhyming, or nonmetered and nonrhyming counterparts. In addition, the N400 and P600 effects for the lyrical stanzas correlated with aesthetic liking effects (metered–nonmetered), implying that modulation of the N400 and P600 has a direct bearing on the aesthetic appreciation of lyrical stanzas. We suggest that these effects are indicative of perceptual-fluency-enhanced aesthetic liking, as postulated by cognitive fluency theory.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)362-373
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.04.2016


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