It's a potentially sucky situation. The vampire craze in teen literature – exemplified by the "Twilight" book series – could be affecting the dynamic workings of the teenage brain in ways scientists don't yet understand.
"We don't know exactly how literature affects the brain, but we know that it does," said Maria Nikolajeva, a Cambridge University professor of literature. "Some new findings have identified spots in the brain that respond to literature and art."
Scientists, authors and educators met in Cambridge, England, Sept. 3-5 for a conference organized by Nikolajeva to discuss how young-adult books and movies affect teenagers' minds.
"For young people, everything is so strange, and you cannot really say why you react to things – it's a difficult period to be a human being," Nikolajeva told LiveScience. The conference, she said, brought together "people from different disciplines to share what we know about this turbulent period we call adolescence."
Sessions included "What Is It About Good Girls and Vampires?" addressing the huge popularity of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series and other vampire-themed books. [ The Real Science & History of Vampires ]
Brain science Teenagers' minds are more susceptible than adult minds to influence – from peers and experiences as well as from books, movies and music, researchers say.
"What we have learned over the past decade is that the teenage brain processes information differently than a more mature brain," said conference presenter Karen Coats, a professor of English at Illinois State University who integrates neuroscience into her research. "Brain imaging shows that teens are more likely to respond to situations emotionally, and they are less likely to consider consequences through rational forethought."
That's because the teenage prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and risk assessment, goes through a growth spurt before puberty, followed by a period of organizing and pruning of the neural pathways, Coats said.
Linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University, a keynote speaker at the conference, is studying how reading longer novels habituates the brain toward a greater capacity for sustained attention to visual material.
"What neuroscience opens for us is what happens within the brain during specific activities that take place within identifiable emotional or motivational states," Heath said by e-mail. "For example, we know now that in reading about particular activities (especially those known to the readers), motor-neuronal activity is detected."
Is Bella a good role model? Attendees at the conference included experts in neuroscience, psychology, art, literature and music, as well as writers such as Meg Rosoff, author of "How I Live Now" and other teen titles.
The series follows Bella, a teenage girl who falls in love with a much older vampire named Edward. Some critics have argued that Bella's passivity, and the story's abstinence-until-marriage message, are anti-feminist.
"If you look very, very clearly at what kind of values the 'Twilight' books propagate, these are very conservative values that do not in any way endorse independent thinking or personal development or a woman's position as an independent creature," Nikolajeva said. "That's quite depressing."
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So what do you think Twifans... as either a teenager or the parent of one, do you agree or disagree with this article?