What emotions does an author inject into a book?

What emotions does an author inject into a book?

Tuesday, 20 September, 2016

“A book is beauty. A book is a shelf, a wall, a home.” states Simon Jenkins, the Guardian. He informs us that the digital book has had its peak. Paper books are instead just what he says: a shelf, a wall, a home. But how do you shove your shelf, wall, or home into a suitcase and fly off to Florida? I’d rather put my Kindle in my handbag and have all the books I’d ever want to read with me.

Ebooks and paper books

Are you a paper book lover or are you into eBooks? I am both, actually. At home, I cannot count the paper books on my shelves, and I love the smell of a bookstore. But when I’m travelling, I prefer the ease of the digital book.

The future of eBooks

What should the future of eBooks look like? This question has been posed by researchers from Amsterdam. What more can be added to the eBook experience? Wouldn’t it be awesome if a tune would start playing when your Kindle notices you’re in a melodramatic mood?

Measuring creativity

To get insight into emotions evoked during reading, the researchers started to look into the process of creativity. The team was joined by prominent Dutch writer Arnon Grunberg, due to his genuine interest in what his readers actually experience while reading his work.

In-home measurements

In his NYC apartment he wrote the book ‘Het bestand’ and researchers collected data over a nine day period to get an insight into his writing process. They were eager to learn more about what was going on inside Arnon: would the data show anger when he was writing a passage full of rage?


Next, after the book was finished, readers were invited in the GrunbergLab in Amsterdam. I was a participant in this project! While I was reading the book, I was hooked up to quite a few data collectors: sensors were placed on my left hand, rib, chest, and finally a head cap was placed on my head to measure my brain activity. A small webcam captured my facial expressions during reading.


In-home measurements of EEG, heart rate, facial expressions, and more

The study was designed to measure both the emotions of the writer during the writing process, and make a comparison to the reader’s emotional state. How do they compare: the reader’s emotions while reading a certain paragraph, and the emotions of the author while writing that same paragraph.


What did they find? The researchers explain that they could distinguish Grunberg’s writing periods from resting, but they didn’t find any reliable differences related to the emotional content of the writing based on their collected data. I am looking forward to the results of the study into the readers emotions. I can remember that I did felt some anger and disgust during certain passages. Would my EEG or heart rate variability show? Let’s wait and find out!

Furthermore, this study shows that measurements of EEG, heart rate (variability), skin conductance, facial expression, and subjective ratings can be done over several hours a day and for several days in a row. This is very good news, because in-home measurements are so important in many research areas such as consumer science and market research!


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