Scientists at the University of Exeter used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate which parts of the brain are activated to process various activities.
No previous experiments had looked specifically at the differing responses in the brain to poetry and prose, they said.
Writing in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the researches reported detecting activity in a "reading network" of brain areas which was activated in response to any written material, but said they also found more emotionally charged writing, including poetry, aroused several of the regions in the brain which respond to music.
And when study participants read one of their favorite passages of poetry, areas of the brain associated with memory were also stimulated more strongly than "reading areas," suggesting reading a favorite passage is a kind of recollection, the researchers said.
"Some people say it is impossible to reconcile science and art, but new brain imaging technology means we are now seeing a growing body of evidence about how the brain responds to the experience of art," Exeter cognitive neurologist Adam Zeman said.
"This was a preliminary study, but it is all part of work that is helping us to make psychological, biological, anatomical sense of art."