Meterered language and emotion (115)

Scholars of poetry traditionally claim that meter makes a specific contribution to the emotional impact of a poem. Our project tries to substantiate this claim and to explore the neurophysiological correlates of this emotional effect.

Metered language can be found in virtually every human culture and in a wide variety of social contexts. Its salient feature is regular acoustic patterning superimposed on the ‘normal’ rhythmic patterns of language. The extra (poetic) effort required by this patterning probably wouldn’t have become a transcultural phenomenon, if it didn’t provide functional benefits, such as enhancing emotional content, synchronizing movements and emotions in groups, or simply triggering formal processing pleasure.

Accordingly, rhetoricians have claimed since antiquity that metrical features make a substantial contribution to persuading, moving and pleasing an audience. To date, there has been very little empirical research on the emotional impact of metrical patterns. The project "Metered language and emotion" addresses the ways in which these patterns interact with emotional perceptions and emotional reactions in listeners. For this purpose we draw on the most common form of traditional German poetry, the German ballad stanza. This poetic structure involves stress-timed verse and rhyme. We are working with a corpus of 60 carefully selected stanzas which have been systematically manipulated in order to serve in different experimental designs.

In a first phase of the investigation, we have collected behavioral data on features such as metrical regularity, pleasure, emotional intensity, perceived and felt emotion. Currently, we perform EEG and fMRT experiments in order to explore the neurophysiological correlates of these behavioral effects.


Obermeier, C., Menninghaus, W., von Koppenfels, M., Raettig, T., Schmidt-Kassow, M., Otterbein, S., Kotz, S. A. (2013). Aesthetic and emotional effects of meter and rhyme in poetry. Frontiers in Psychology 4 (10). 1-10. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00010