Keith Oatley

Keith Oatley
University of Toronto | U of T · Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development

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185
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Publications

Publications (185)
Article
Poetry evokes emotions. It does so, according to the theory we present, from three sorts of simulation. They each can prompt emotions, which are communications both within the brain and among people. First, models of a poem's semantic contents can evoke emotions as do models that occur in depictions of all kinds, from novels to perceptions. Second,...
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Fiction-when it is listened to, or when it appears in print, film, and video games-introduces people not only to storyworlds, but also to characters, their relationships, and complex social interactions. A growing body of research suggests that people who listen to, read, or watch fiction may learn social skills from stories through various mechani...
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In 29 informal interviews and 91 online questionnaires, we asked people about secular pilgrimages mostly to places associated with writers, musicians, and visual artists. Pilgrims often felt strong emotions at their destinations: mean ratings of how moved they felt on 0-to-10 scales in the informal and online studies were 6.56 and 6.14, respectivel...
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Positing a sense of purpose as more valuable to mental health and wellbeing than the pursuit of pleasure or happiness, this chapter surveys the evidence for reading as a life-sustaining activity in part because of its emphasis on meaning-of-life issues. It considers the landmark studies demonstrating connections between the habit of reading (especi...
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The reading of fiction has been found to confer benefits, including increased empathy and understanding of others. Among ongoing research questions are those of how people engage in imagined worlds while keeping in touch with the currently perceived world, as well as how far stories were important in human evolution and how the brain is involved un...
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With the Weary Voyager Model of creativity we propose that difficulties of creativity can be associated with a perceptual tendency to see and act on the world as it was in the past rather than as it is in the present. The model suggests that three configurations of selfhood tend to oppose creativity. First is self-deception, in which the Narrative...
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The Roman poet Horace said poetry gives pleasure and instructs. A more informative theory is that poetry and art, in general, are less about pleasure than about exploration of emotions. Literary authors concentrate on negative emotions, seemingly to try and understand them. In two studies, reading literary art enabled the transformation of selfhood...
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Literary writing involves externalization of mind onto paper or computer screen, and a process of guided exploration over a space of possibilities. Among the arts, this kind of writing may come closest in structure and content to everyday consciousness; this has enabled writers and readers to explore the workings of minds in interactions with other...
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Artistic narrative has been recognized in fictional genres such as poetry, plays, novels, short stories, and films. It occurs also in nonfictional genres such as essays and biographies. We review evidence on the empirical exploration of effects of narrative, principally fiction, on how it enables people to become more empathetic, on how foregrounde...
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Some philosophers have questioned the value of fiction and argued that the emotions it prompts are inappropriate because they are not about real people. Recent evidence indicates that engaging with fiction can enable important psychological effects. Fiction is about inner truth, truth of other minds and of one's own. The chapter proposes four bases...
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Characters are considered central to works of fiction and essential to our enjoyment of them. We conducted an exploratory study to examine whether the ability to sketch engaging fictional characters is influenced by a writer’s attributes. Samples of 93 creative writers and 114 nonwriters generated character descriptions based on a portrait photogra...
Article
Fiction is the simulation of selves in interaction. People who read it improve their understanding of others. This effect is especially marked with literary fiction, which also enables people to change themselves. These effects are due partly to the process of engagement in stories, which includes making inferences and becoming emotionally involved...
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A novel is based on suggestions from which readers construct characters and events in an imagined story world. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s suggestions derive from 3 sets of cues: (a) characters’ utterances; (b) thoughts of characters, of the narrator, and even of readers; and (c) narrated depictions of settings, characters, actions and ev...
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Recent studies have shown that reading literary fiction can prompt personality changes that include improvements in abilities in empathy and theory-of-mind. We review these studies and propose a psychological conception of artistic literature as having 3 aspects that contribute to such changes. These are that literary fiction is simulation of selve...
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Empirical studies of personality traits in creative writers have demonstrated mixed findings, perhaps due to issues of sampling, measurement, and the reporting of statistical information. The goal of this study is to quantify the personality structure of aspiring creative writers according to a modern hierarchal model of trait personality. A sample...
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Cognitive approaches offer clear links between how emotions are thought about in everyday life and how they are investigated psychologically. Cognitive researchers have focused on how emotions are caused when events or other people affect concerns and on how emotions influence processes such as reasoning, memory, and attention. Three representative...
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Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. - John KeatsWhen Amy Winehouse, a 27-year-old British singer, died in her London flat in July of 2011, few were surprised. While her musical talent was prodigious (her singing was compared to that of Billy Holiday), her battle with alcohol and drug addiction als...
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The ability to think in abstractions depends on the imagination. An important evolutionary change was the installation of a suite of six imaginative activities that emerge at first in childhood, which include empathy, symbolic play, and theory-of-mind. These abilities can be built upon in adulthood to enable the production of oral and written stori...
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Drinking tests were carried out on rats at four times of day after NaCl injections of six concentrations. Contrary to what would be expected if a diurnal influence directly modulates the brain mechanisms cantrolling drinking, there was no potentiation or inhibition of drinking at any of the times when tests were made.
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The potential of literature to increase empathy was investigated in an experi-ment. Participants (N = 100, 69 women) completed a package of questionnaires that measured lifelong exposure to fiction and nonfiction, personality traits, and affective and cognitive empathy. They read either an essay or a short story that were equivalent in length and c...
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Stomachs and small intestines were examined and weighed up to 6 h after rats had been allowed to eat for 30 min without water available. A meal of commercial rat food left the stomach with a time constant of about 4 h. Each gram of food eaten attracted approximately 1 ml of additional fluid into the gut. The time course of this fluid movement and o...
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The need for cognitive closure has been found to be associated with a variety of suboptimal information processing strategies, leading to decreased creativity and rationality. This experiment tested the hypothesis that exposure to fictional short stories, as compared with exposure to nonfictional essays, will reduce need for cognitive closure. One...
Conference Paper
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Fiction is a kind of simulation, of selves in the social world: one that runs not on computers but on minds. Raymond Mar, Maja Djikic, and I, have found two kinds of effect. One is that the more fiction people read, the better is their understanding of others. A second is that reading artistic literature as compared with less artistic literature en...
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Learning to read and write is seen as both the acquisition of skills useful in a modern society and an introduction to a world increasingly organized around the reading and writing of authoritative texts. While most agree on the importance of writing, insufficient attention has been given to the more basic question of just what writing is, that is,...
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Previous research has demonstrated that art can produce some variation in self-reported personality traits. The present experiment addressed two questions. First, does visual art cause greater fluctuations in personality for unsettled or serene individuals, and second, do unsettled individuals respond more to art as a function of its narrative stru...
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Previous research has demonstrated that art can produce some variation in self-reported personality traits. The present experiment addressed two questions. First, does visual art cause greater fluctuations in personality for unsettled or serene individuals, and second, do unsettled individuals respond more to art as a function of its narrative stru...
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"Positive Affect and Decision Making" / A. M. Isen "A Goal Appraisal Theory of Emotional Understanding: Implications for Development and Learning" / N. L. Stein, T. Trabasso and M. D. Liwag "Cognitive and Social Construction in Emotions" / P. N. Johnson-Laird and K. Oatley "Emotion and Memory" / W. G. Parrott and M. P. Spackman "Emotion Con...
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We tested whether the genre of a literary text (essay as compared with short story) or its artistic merit would be primarily responsible for the variability in the self-perceived personality traits that individuals experience when they read. One hundred participants were randomly assigned to read either one of eight essays or one of eight short sto...
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Fiction might be dismissed as observations that lack reliability and validity, but this would be a misunderstanding. Works of fiction are simulations that run on minds. They were the first kinds of simulation. All art has a metaphorical quality: a painting can be both pigments on canvas and a person. In literary art, this quality extends to readers...
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In the 25 years since its foundation, Cognition and Emotion has become a leading psychological journal of research on emotion. Here we review some of the ways in which this has occurred. Questions have included how parallel systems of cognition and emotion can operate in emotion regulation and psychological therapies (including the issue of free wi...
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Reading fiction can strengthen your social ties and even change your personality
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The communicative theory of emotions postulates that emotions are communications both within the brain and between individuals. Basic emotions owe their evolutionary origins to social mammals, and they enable human beings to use repertoires of mental resources appropriate to recurring and distinctive kinds of events. These emotions also enable them...
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Emotions are central to the experience of literary narrative fiction. Affect and mood can influence what book people choose, based partly on whether their goal is to change or maintain their current emotional state. Once having chosen a book, the narrative itself acts to evoke and transform emotions, both directly through the events and characters...
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Early writingFour devices of fictionExpertiseFlaubert's writing practiceWriters' theories
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Depiction of characterCharacter in prehistoryCharacter in historyThe emergence of character from relationshipA psychological analysis of characterRelationships with booksThe character of Mr Darcy
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Shakespeare and dreamApproach by the dreamFiction and simulation
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There has been a growing understanding of how the mind and brain work in readers' and writers' engagement with fiction. This is worthwhile because fiction occupies much time in people's lives and because it enables them to understand others and themselves. At the same time, the future of research in this area will contribute to psychology generally...
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In two experiments subjects viewed versions of Heider & Simmel's (1944) cartoon film in which two triangles and a circle move in and round a diagram of a house. The film was shown in stages. After each stage subjects wrote accounts of what had happened and what they thought might happen next. Accounts were analysed by assigning each verb phrase to...
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To understand psychological functions of writing, in which words achieve a certain permanency, we discuss Petrarch’s memoir of his ascent of Mont Ventoux, Galileo’s scientific account of the laws governing falling bodies, and Cervantes’s fictional account of Don Quixote’s confrontation with windmills. In each case, written words function as cues, i...
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In understanding the degree of choice we have in our emotions, we benefit from the Stoics' analysis into first and second movements: appraisals and reappraisals. The Stoics were concerned to avoid the harm that emotions can cause, but their idea of working on goals, rather than on emotions as such, generalizes beyond their concerns. For modern peop...
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Readers of fiction tend to have better abilities of empathy and theory of mind (Mar et al., 2006). We present a study designed to replicate this finding, rule out one possible explanation, and extend the assessment of social outcomes. In order to rule out the role of personality, we first identified Openness as the most consistent correlate. This t...
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An experiment tested the hypothesis that art can cause significant changes in the experience of one's own personality traits under laboratory conditions. After completing a set of questionnaires, including the Big-Five Inventory (BFI) and an emotion checklist, the experimental group read the short story The Lady With the Toy Dog by Chekhov, while t...
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An experiment tested the hypothesis that literature can subvert habitual emotional disengagement of avoidantly attached individuals. After completing the Attachment Style Questionnaire and an Emotion Checklist, 166 participants were randomly assigned to either an Art or a Control condition. Those in the Art condition read the short story The Lady w...
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Three studies were conducted to develop and test a construct of Chinese marital commitment in the context of immigration. ‘Belief in common fate’ refers to an unfailing devotion to a Confucian ideal of the marital union as hierarchical without regard for external contingencies or individual needs. Women who did not believe in common fate reported a...
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According to the Communicative Theory of Emotions, we experience emotions when events occur that are important for our goals and plans. A method of choice for studying these matters is the emotion diary. Emotions configure our cognitive systems and our relationships. Many of our emotions concern our relationships, and empathy is central to our expe...
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To understand human emotions we need, alongside appraisal, the concept of emergence (derivation from the expectations of relationships) and the concept of unfolding (of sequences that can be expressed as narratives). These processes can be seen in resentment, which has not been studied extensively in psychology. It is associated with envy, and it c...
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Response to commentaries by Neu, Sundararajan, and Reisenzein.
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Reviews the film, Rachel Getting Married written by Jenny Lumet and directed by Jonathan Demme (2008). This film is about two sisters: Kym (Anne Hathaway), on leave from a residential rehabilitation center, and Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt), whose wedding Kym comes home to attend. Hathaway gives a terrific performance as an addict, desperate to be the...
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Reviews the film, Fanny and Alexander , directed by Ingmar Bergman (1982). Fanny and Alexander is a three-hour film in four acts. Written as well as directed by Bergman, it is a transformation of Shakespeare's Hamlet . In his review of the film, Keith Oatley summarizes the plot and discusses the relevance of Bergman's film (and overall philosophy)...
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Reading novels isn't just entertaining, it helps you navigate the complex social world
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Fiction literature has largely been ignored by psychology researchers because its only function seems to be entertainment, with no connection to empirical validity. We argue that literary narratives have a more important purpose. They offer models or simulations of the social world via abstraction, simplification, and compression. Narrative fiction...
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Writing is analyzed as thinking that uses paper or other media to externalize and manipulate symbolic expressions. Mental operations of natural language can occur somewhat independently, and they communicate well with language that has been written, but for skilled writing these operations need elaborate installation in the mind. We explore four me...
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Emotions: A Brief History investigates the history of emotions across cultures as well as the evolutionary history of emotions and of emotional development across an individual's life span. In clear and accessible language, Keith Oatley examines key topics such as emotional intelligence, emotion and the brain, and emotional disorders. Throughout, h...
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Two Components of an EmotionSystems of Social, Non-social, and Anti-social Motivation
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Origins of IdentityFour Components of CharacterEmotions as the Bases of Personality
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DepressionA Very Brief History of PsychiatryThe New EpidemiologyGenes and Environment
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Reviews the film, Pan's Labyrinth directed by Guillermo del Toro (2006). In the 1920s, surrealism was conceived as a movement of liberation of society and of the imagination. Its psychological aim was mental expression, that is, exploration of the marvelous, freed from such rational constraints as the contradiction between reality and fantasy or b...
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Reading exhibits a principle of expertise: the more one does it the more skilled one is likely to become both in the activity and in content knowledge. Our experiences with text lead to the acquisition of both vocabulary and general knowledge. Research from our group examines how reading can have other outcomes. With a starting point of fiction as...
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This study examined the life events and difficulties inherent to the immigration process and the sources of social support that influenced mental health. A six-month longitudinal study, utilizing a detailed semi-structured interview protocol and standardized questionnaires, was conducted with a group of Chinese women who had migrated to Canada with...
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Dante's book of prose autobiography, poems, and critical analyses, the Vita Nuova (New Life) shows the progress of his love for Beatrice in sufficient detail to understand how it prompted a creative innovation in his poetry. In response to incidents that were crucial in his love for Beatrice, Dante describes a crisis in his ability to write. With...
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The dispute over the nature of basic emotions is central in current psychological discussions of emotions. In this article we first discuss various senses of basic emotions and indicate the connections among them. Then the nature of nonbasic emotions is discussed; their development is associated with the emergence of complex intentional capacities....
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Beyond mere awareness, human consciousness includes the reflexive idea of consciousness of self as a centre of agency and experience. This consciousness of self has been thought to involve narrative: a distinct mode of thinking about the plans and actions of agents (self and others), about vicissitudes encountered, about attempts to solve problems...
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In this exploratory archival study, the motivation of writers of fiction and physicists was examined by studying word usage as a clue to unconscious motivators of their work. The hypothesis was that artists make art to deal with issues in their own lives, thus relying on emotions, particularly negative emotions (markers of presence of issues), to g...
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While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction. Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels. Frequent fiction re...
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Although in post-modern discourse doubt has been thrown on the value of ideas of emotions and character, I argue in this paper that a cognitive approach to Shakespeare enables us to see these matters a comprehensible way. Plays such as those of Shakespeare are simulations that run on minds. As we run one of these simulations we take on the goals of...
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Human societies are built on cooperative plans. Most such plans succeed and, when this occurs, trust in the relationship with the other person involved in the plan is increased. But some plans go awry. We present analyses of errors, each recorded in an incident diary, by 217 participants when something went wrong in a plan that involved someone els...
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Fiction can be a means of striving towards truths, but in a way that is more abstract than the truths of everyday happenings. We offer a staircase of evolutionary pre-adaptations on which works of literature such as novels and plays depend. These include systems of mirror-neurons, mimetic ritual, conversational language based on actions, narrative...
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Plays are simulations of social interaction that run on minds rather than on computers. Literary simulations depend on folk theory and have 3 properties that are useful to psychology: (a) They offer scriptlike themes and variations that depict narrative progressions with problem-solving motifs, (b) they enable us to experience emotions and their tr...
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The investigation of emotional aspects of users’ interactions with systems is an important matter for human–computer interaction. The finding that users are prepared to work longer on systems that offer some acknowledgement of the frustration that occurs in using systems is an interesting pointer. The next step beyond acknowledgement will be for sy...
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In the psychological literature, love is often seen as a construct inseparable from that of close, interpersonal relationships. As a result, it has been often assumed that the same motivational factors underlie both phenomena. This often leads researchers to propose that love does not exist in itself—that it is an emotion which stems solely from a...
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We argue that theory-of-mind understanding has developed to facilitate joint thinking and planning, defined as the creation of new mental objects that could not have been created by one mind. Three components of this ability are proposed: the mental architecture indexed by false belief understanding, domain-specific knowledge, and the prioritizatio...
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It is well known that memories of self-relevant experiences are reconstructed over time. Artworks often require an elongated period of interpretative meaning-making. Such works were therefore used to study temporal aspects of memory construction. In a longitudinal study, individuals' memories of artworks were examined to explore the idea that only...
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An outpatient sample of women was assessed to investigate the depressogenic risk associated with a congruency between the type of life stress experienced and the participant's dominant domain of meaning. Domain of meaning was defined as that aspect of the participant's life from which she derives primary meaning for her sense of self; it was measur...

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