Poetry and narrative: An evolutionary perspective on the cognition of verbal art

Norbert Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The study of the aesthetic genres reveals important design features of cognition, in how complex higher-order abilities are organized mentally. An evolutionary perspective frames this research in a way that considers the componential nature of language-related abilities in particular. In addition, it directs our attention to the important problem of understanding how different abilities are related. In this review of the research the focus will be on poetic and narrative abilities: (1) as they develop in children, (2) how the component sub-structures of poetry and narrative might be represented cognitively, and (3) how they may have emerged in early humans. Crucially, the analysis of component structures implies understanding how they interact in performance, and more interestingly how different abilities and faculties share competence modules and processing mechanisms in common. This approach helps put the discussion regarding the relative weight of domain-specific and domain-general structures into perspective, potentially reconciling some seemingly opposing viewpoints in evolutionary science and in the study of language development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-294
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Modularity
  • Narrative
  • Poetry
  • Verbal art

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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