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The Cognitive Neuroscience of Theatre and Literature (CNTL) is a field devoted to analyzing the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying the production and perception of stories and storytelling. It uses the tools of cognitive neuroscience to understand the nature of narrative in all of its forms. The synthesis envisioned by CNTL takes into account the following important considerations:


1. Theatre and literature combined. There is a gap between the fields devoted to theatre and literature, where the former focuses on acting and performance, and the latter focuses on books and reading. It is important to create a unified framework for theatre and literature, one that accommodates both the similarities and differences between performed and read stories.


2. Generation as well as perception. The role of creativity is missing from many discussions of theatre and literature. Both fields are much more focused on the "product" (e.g., the story, book, play) than the "process" (e.g., the conception, drafting, preparation). What is needed is a theoretical understanding of the underlying processes of both creative writing and performance-based improvisation. In addition, this needs to be applied to all narrative media, including dance, visual art, and music.


3. Character and plot. Character and plot are interdependent components of narrative. However, they can have different emphases in drama and literature. Acting in theatre performances creates a different manner of interacting with characters than occurs during reading. In contrast, the cognitive study of literature, including the analysis of story grammars and narratology, is often more focused on plot structure. It is important to develop cognitive models that can illuminate the relationship between character and plot, and do so across the different media of storytelling. It is also important to consider post-modern theatre notions that tend to downplay the relevance of character and plot in favour of performance per se.


A description of the "Big 5" issues of CNTL can be found here.


This informational website is organized and maintained by Steven Brown and Matthew Berry of the NeuroArts Lab at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario).