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How Does Leisure Reading Affect Social Cognitive Abilities?

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Abstract

Research evidence supports the claim that engagement with works of fiction may benefit readers’ social cognitive abilities of empathy and theory of mind. However, there is little direct evidence to support claims about the causal mechanisms underlying the positive influence of leisure reading. Simulation theory has emerged as the most common explanatory mechanism. We summarize simulation theory and indicate ways in which the theory requires a more concrete instantiation. To provide a contrast to simulation theory, we offer three accounts of the origins of the emotional content of readers’ narrative experiences. Our goal is to highlight the diversity of processes that contribute to readers’ affective responses. Finally, we consider how ordinary processes of learning and memory might explain changes in readers’ social cognition.

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... While these open and complex empathic understandings are difficult to research with standardised experimental tests (Fletcher-Watson and Bird, 2020), the exploration of reflection in response to fictional texts offers a unique way to explore empathic understandings within an ecologically valid context (Chapple et al., 2021b). Specifically, fiction is argued to simulate the real social world (Mar and Oatley, 2008;Waytz et al., 2015;Oatley, 2016), where readers can embody character perspectives and feelings to achieve felt empathy (Mumper and Gerrig, 2019). While the use of personal thought and feeling to understand, appreciate and experience a text could be criticised as egocentric (Lombardo and Baron-Cohen, 2011), fiction encourages an overcoming of social pressures and conformity in a way that moves readers away from default or rigid ways of thinking (O'Sullivan et al., 2015;Davis, 2020;Davis and Magee, 2020). ...
... While the use of personal thought and feeling to understand, appreciate and experience a text could be criticised as egocentric (Lombardo and Baron-Cohen, 2011), fiction encourages an overcoming of social pressures and conformity in a way that moves readers away from default or rigid ways of thinking (O'Sullivan et al., 2015;Davis, 2020;Davis and Magee, 2020). Furthermore, fiction is argued to take readers beyond the process of imposing their own thoughts and feelings onto others, instead encouraging a mutual feeling together with the text and the minds within it (Mumper and Gerrig, 2019). Not only does fiction evoke feeling within a text in this way, but also requires co-occurring perspective-taking with the minds that are being represented (Zunshine, 2011). ...
... As a result, the distinction between affective and cognitive empathy becomes artificial while reading, with both thought and feeling working fluidly together in a way that reflects real-world empathy (Koopman, 2016;Fletcher-Watson and Bird, 2020). Therefore, it is argued that fiction acts like a flight simulator, providing the opportunity to engage with multiple minds across social experiences (Mar and Oatley, 2008;Mumper and Gerrig, 2019). This has been supported by research findings which indicate that engagement with fiction may enhance ToM performance and wider empathic capacity (Mar et al., 2009;Bal and Veltkamp, 2013;Kidd and Castano, 2013). ...
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Dominant theoretical models of autism and resultant research enquiries have long centered upon an assumed autism-specific empathy deficit. Associated empirical research has largely relied upon cognitive tests that lack ecological validity and associate empathic skill with heuristic-based judgments from limited snapshots of social information. This artificial separation of thought and feeling fails to replicate the complexity of real-world empathy, and places socially tentative individuals at a relative disadvantage. The present study aimed to qualitatively explore how serious literary fiction, through its ability to simulate real-world empathic response, could therefore enable more ecologically valid insights into the comparative empathic experiences of autistic and non-autistic individuals. Eight autistic and seven non-autistic participants read Of Mice and Men for six days while completing a semi-structured reflective diary. On finishing the book, participants were asked to engage in three creative writing tasks that encouraged reflective thinking across the novel. Thematic and literary analysis of the diary reflections and writing tasks revealed three main themes (1) Distance from the Novel; (2) Mobility of Response; (3) Re-Creating Literature. Findings demonstrated the usefulness of serious literature as a research tool for comparing the empathic experiences of autistic and non-autistic individuals. Specifically, autistic individuals often showed enhanced socio-empathic understandings of the literature with no empathy deficits when compared to non-autistic participants.
... This complex social simulation process, with the addition of rich contextual information, that is often unavailable in real-world settings, is believed to encourage perspective-taking (Mar & Oatley, 2008). During this simulative process, readers infer character emotions and perspectives from their own thoughts and feelings, through the activation of past, personal memories that link to narrative circumstances (Mumper & Gerrig, 2019). This reliance on personal experience alongside the projection of self is argued to temporarily blur self-other boundaries. ...
... Although the blurring of self-other boundaries is viewed by some as problematic and 'egocentric' in the context of real-life social understanding (Lombardo & Baron-Cohen, 2011), reading provides richer detail which can be processed for longer. Thus, reading acts like a flight simulator by providing many social experiences to support social skill training, reinforcing existing knowledge and helping to develop new social understanding (Mar & Oatley, 2008;Mumper & Gerrig, 2019). ...
... This under-representation was highlighted by autistic participants, who felt further misrepresented if they belonged to other minority groups. This could be particularly important, given the proposed significance of personal experience in relation to narrative contexts (Mumper & Gerrig, 2019). However, both groups still identified with people and contexts in texts. ...
Article
Background While research has consistently highlighted the usefulness of narrative texts for social development, this has not been fully explored with autistic adults. It has long been assumed that autistic individuals lack the social understanding to contemplate fiction, preferring non-fiction. This study aimed to explore the self-reported reading habits of autistic adults compared to neurotypical adults, accounting for higher education demands. Methods A qualitative design was used, with 43 participants (22 autistic; 21 neurotypical) completing a reading habits questionnaire and subsequent semi-structured interview. Results Neurotypical participants tended to prefer fiction, with autistic participants showing no preference between fiction and non-fiction. Four themes were identified from interview data (1) reading material choices; (2) text investment; (3) in-text social understanding; and (4) reading as a social learning device. Both groups reported evidence of empathising, perspective-taking and social understanding while reading. The autistic group additionally reported social learning outcomes from reading. Discussion Findings contradict prior assumptions that autistic individuals lack the social understanding required by fiction. Instead, findings show that social benefits of narrative texts extend to autistic readers, providing important social learning experiences.
... However, when the protagonist was angry toward one character, readers' personal experience of anger was elevated toward both the warden and Peter. These results support established theories of narrative and character involvement, which suggest that readers' emotional responses emerge due to the appraisal of story events from the perspective of characters (Cohen, 2001;Mar & Oatley, 2008;Mumper & Gerrig, 2019), but also suggest that readers' emotional responses may be more complex (and do not perfectly correspond) with the protagonist's. With respect to Hypothesis 2, the target of readers' anger varied depending on the appraisal-related information provided in different versions of the story. ...
... Our work incorporates an appraisal theory perspective to help understand the complexities of readers' emotional experiences of narratives. This work contributes broadly to theories about how readers respond emotionally to stories (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009;Cohen, 2001;Green & Brock, 2000;Mar & Oatley, 2008;Moyer-Gusé, 2008, Mumper & Gerrig, 2019. Our results suggest that event appraisalsspecifically control and responsibilityare a mechanism that explain why readers' narrative or character involvement creates a matching or mismatching emotional experience. ...
Article
Emotional responses are a central feature of readers’ narrative experiences. Situations in which readers adopt characters’ goals and experience similar emotional reactions to story events are often the focus of research on readers’ experiences of stories. However, readers may understand (or appraise) story events in a way that differs from the main character, and may consequently feel different emotions. In the current work, we leverage an appraisal theory perspective to clarify conditions under which readers experience emotions that mirror characters’ emotional responses to story events, as well as conditions under which readers experience distinct emotions. Study 1 examined readers’ experience of anger toward different story characters. Study 2 examined readers’ experience of sadness or fear for one story character. Results suggest that readers appraise the event from both a character’s perspective as well as their individual view, which generally translates into the experience of emotions that correspond with both the character’s appraisals and their own.
... Reading enhances young people's lifelong learning abilities and activates one's visual and motor experiences (Özkür, 2020;Speer et al., 2009), in addition to increasing social cognition (Dodell-Feder & Tamir, 2018;Mumper & Gerrig, 2019) and social competence (Kozak & Recchia, 2019), thus creating skills for a well-functioning society. According to Collins and Cheek (1999), reading is a complex cognitive activity that requires the recognition of printed symbols as meaningful units and their comprehension as a thought unit to comprehend a printed message properly. ...
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A R T I C L E I N F O A B S T R A C T Purpose The well-being of youths is a crucial concern, and the pandemic has further expatiated their well-being There is a need to foster positive well-being among youths experiencing a rapid developmental change in their lives and choosing their environments which can be accomplished through reading. The goal of this study was to determine the perceived influence of reading attitude, perceived behavioural control, and subjective norm on adolescents' reading habits and the relationship between reading habits and subjective well-being among youths aged 15 to 24 in East and West Malaysia. Methodology The current study used a survey questionnaire gathered from 813 responders from East and West Malaysia and the analysis utilized AMOS-Structural Equation Modeling. Findings The data reveal that reading attitude and subjective norms positively and significantly influence reading habits, although perceived behavioural control has a detrimental effect. In addition, the findings support the mediation of reading habits in the relationship between reading attitude and subjective well-being and between perceived behavioural control and subjective well-being. Implications to Research and Practice This study would provide educators and policymakers with insight into the most effective strategies for instilling good reading habits in youths by transforming the curriculum and what happens inside the classroom to provide much-needed valuable classroom time to engage youth in reading.
... The second route is more direct, via observational learning (Black & Barnes, 2021;Johnson et al., 2013a;Mumper & Gerrig, 2019). Readers are thought to be able to learn morally positive attitudes and behaviours when a story character is rewarded for morally positive behaviour or penalized for morally negative behaviour. ...
Article
We present two experiments examining the effects of reading narrative fiction ( vs. narrative non-fiction vs. expository non-fiction) on social and moral cognition, using a battery of self-report, explicit and implicit indicators. Experiment 1 ( N = 340) implemented a pre-registered, randomized between-groups design, and assessed multiple outcomes after a short reading assignment. Results failed to reveal any differences between the three reading conditions on either social or moral cognition. Experiment 2 employed a longitudinal design. N = 104 participants were randomly assigned to read an entire book over seven days. Outcome variables were assessed before and after the reading assignment as well as at a one-week follow-up. Results did not show any differential development between the three reading conditions over time. The present results do not support the claim that reading narrative fiction is apt to improve our general social and moral cognition.
... In recent years, there has been considerable debate on the influence of the engagement with fictional textual narratives on empathic capacities (Currie 2016;Langkau 2020;Mumper and Gerrig 2019). For current purposes, I reframe this issue and ask whether fictional textual narratives can scaffold empathising. ...
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Mental capacities, philosophers of mind and cognition have recently argued, are not exclusively realised in brain, but depend upon the rest of the body and the local environment. In this context, the concept of ‘scaffolding’ has been employed to specify the relationship between embodied organisms and their local environment. The core idea is that at least some cognitive and affective capacities are causally dependent upon environmental resources. However, in-depth examinations of specific examples of scaffolding as test cases for current theorising about scaffolding have remained scarce. The aim of the current paper is to help close this gap. To this end, I will offer a characterisation of key aspects of ‘scaffolding’ that can help specify scaffolding relations. In a second step, I will analyse fictional textual narrative as a test case for accounts of cognitive and affective scaffolding. The key claim of this paper will be that fictional textual narrative can be considered as a scaffold that transforms our capacities in social understanding and empathising in the course of ontogeny.
... Let's suppose that longer stories would provide a richer context for simulation. We also note that longer stories provide more sources (i.e., in addition to memory processes and possible simulation) for emotional content in readers' representations (see Mumper & Gerrig, 2019). For example, readers' participation in narratives may also contribute to their emotional experiences. ...
Article
While research has repeatedly found evidence that readers infer characters’ emotions, we investigate three outstanding questions about the content and time course of such inferences. We ask whether even simple narratives give rise to emotion inferences, in what form such inferences are encoded into long-term memory, and whether they are uniquely bound to the character whose actions prompted the inference. To address these issues, we had participants read simple, sentence-long stories that allowed ready emotion inferences. Compared to performance on control stories, participants took longer to reject the implied emotion term in an immediate paradigm (Experiment 1) and were less accurate in a delayed paradigm when primed by the name of the character who experienced the emotion (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, we primed participants in a delayed recognition paradigm with either the name of the character who experienced the emotion or a secondary character who did not. Participants were less accurate in rejecting the implied emotion term when primed by both character names. These results suggest that readers can encode emotion inferences based on simple narratives and that they encode those inferences into long-memory with minimal content. In addition, those emotion inferences may be activated from features of the general narrative situation, rather than only by the character whose actions or experiences prompted the inference.
... The second route is more direct, via observational learning Mumper and Gerrig, 2019;Black and Barnes, 2020a). According to this view, readers can learn morally positive attitudes and behaviors when a story character is rewarded for a morally positive action or punished for a morally negative action; and identification with the character can increase the likelihood of executing an observed behavior. ...
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There is a long tradition in philosophy and literary criticism of belief in the social and moral benefits of exposure to fiction, and recent empirical work has examined some of these claims. However, little of this research has addressed the textual features responsible for the hypothesized cognitive effects. We present two experiments examining whether readers' social and moral cognition are influenced by the perspective from which a narrative is told (voice and focalization), and whether potential effects of perspective are mediated by transportation into the story or by identification with the protagonist. Both experiments employed a between-subjects design in which participants read a short story, either in the first-person voice using internal focalization, third-person voice using internal focalization, or third-person voice using external focalization. Social and moral cognition was assessed using a battery of tasks. Experiment 1 (N 258) failed to detect any effects of perspective or any mediating roles of transportation or identification. Implementing a more rigorous adaptation of the third-person story using external focalization, Experiment 2 (N 262) largely replicated this pattern. Taken together, the evidence reported here suggests that perspective does not have a significant impact on the extent to which narratives modulate social and moral cognition, either directly or indirectly via transportation and identification.
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Recent research based on the needs of the autistic community has explored the frequent social misunderstandings that arise between autistic and non-autistic people, known as the double empathy problem. Double empathy understandings require both groups to respect neurodiversity by focussing on individuality across groups. This study aimed to explore how literature, through its ability to uncover nuanced emotional response differences between readers, could facilitate double empathy understandings within pairs of autistic and non-autistic adults. A longitudinal, qualitative design was used, with 4 gender-matched pairs. Participants read Of Mice and Men for 1 week, whilst completing a structured, reflective diary. This was followed by 4 one-hour paired reading sessions, where pairs discussed the book and their reflections in depth. Participants were then invited to a final one-on-one interview to discuss their thoughts and experiences of the paired reading sessions. Thematic and literary analysis of the session and interview data revealed four themes (1) The Book as Social Oil; (2) From a World of Difference to a World of Affinity; (3) Emotional Intelligence: From Thinking About to Feeling with; and (4) From Overwhelming to Overcoming. All participants reported having achieved an individualised view of one another to explore their nuanced differences. The non-autistic group reported a more sensitive understanding of what it means to be autistic, while the autistic group overcame concerns about non-autistic people stereotyping autism, and instead reported feeling valued and accommodated by their non-autistic partners.
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In this chapter, we present theoretical and empirical advances in our understanding of the way readers build mental representations of the main protagonists’ emotional status. Based on the highly influential studies of Morton Ann Gernsbacher and her colleagues in the nineties, we present several studies that have attempted to specify the nature of readers’ mental representations of emotions as well as the conditions that may facilitate emotion inferences. Of special interest in this chapter is the often underestimated interdisciplinary nature of emotion inferences as well as the empirical and theoretical opportunities that true interdisciplinary approaches of emotion inferences may provide us with in the future.
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The authors suggest that, as people experience narratives, they often generate mental responses that parallel responses they make when participating in real-world events. In 2 experiments, they used a think-aloud procedure to explore the range of such participatory responses that participants generated while viewing film excerpts. In Experiment 1, participants viewed film excerpts with sympathetic and unsympathetic characters. The authors used viewers’ responses to construct a taxonomy of participatory responses. In Experiment 2, they provided evidence that participatory responses are sensitive to narrative context. They manipulated the level of suspense for excerpts by providing or withholding information about potential negative outcomes and found that viewers generated more participatory responses during suspenseful than nonsuspenseful film excerpts. The authors propose that participatory responses play an important role in how people experience narratives and should be included within theories of narrative comprehension. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
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Previous studies have found a positive relationship between exposure to fiction and interpersonal sensitivity. However, it is unclear whether exposure to different genres of fiction may be differentially related to these outcomes for readers. The current study investigated the role of four fiction genres (i.e., Domestic Fiction, Romance, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, and Suspense/Thriller) in the relationship between fiction and interpersonal sensitivity, controlling for other individual differences. Participants completed a survey that included a lifetime print-exposure measure along with an interpersonal sensitivity task. Some, but not all, fiction genres were related to higher scores on our measure of interpersonal sensitivity. Furthermore, after controlling for personality, gender, age, English fluency, and exposure to nonfiction, only the Romance and Suspense/Thriller genres remained significant predictors of interpersonal sensitivity. The findings of this study demonstrate that in discussing the influence of fiction print-exposure on readers it is important to consider the genre of the literature being consumed.
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Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM (experiments 1 to 5) and cognitive ToM (experiments 4 and 5) compared with reading nonfiction (experiments 1), popular fiction (experiments 2 to 5), or nothing at all (experiments 2 and 5). Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM. More broadly, they suggest that ToM may be influenced by engagement with works of art.
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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 also creates a deep and immersive simulative experience of social interactions for readers. This simulation facilitates the communication and understanding of social information and makes it more compelling, achieving a form of learning through experience. Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference. © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.
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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 complexity, were tested again for cognitive and affective empathy, and were finally given a non-self-report measure of empathy. Participants who read a short story who were also low in Openness experienced significant increases in self-reported cognitive empathy (p < .05). No increases in affective empathy were found. Participants who were frequent fiction-readers had higher scores on the non-self-report measure of empathy. Our results sug-gest a role for fictional literature in facilitating development of empathy.
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In this article, we articulate the critical differences between memory-based processing and explanation-based processing. We suggest that the most important claim of memory-based text processing is that the automatic processes that function with respect to text processing are all applications of ordinary memory processes. This claim contrasts with explanation-based accounts that argue that some automatic processes are special to text processing and enact particular reader goals. We review evidence that supports the memory-based approach but we also suggest how it might properly be falsified.
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The current study investigated whether fiction experiences change empathy of the reader. Based on transportation theory, it was predicted that when people read fiction, and they are emotionally transported into the story, they become more empathic. Two experiments showed that empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story. No transportation led to lower empathy in both studies, while study 1 showed that high transportation led to higher empathy among fiction readers. These effects were not found for people in the control condition where people read non-fiction. The study showed that fiction influences empathy of the reader, but only under the condition of low or high emotional transportation into the story.
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Although fiction treats themes of psychological importance, it has been excluded from psychology because it is seen as involving flawed empirical method. But fiction is not empirical truth. It is simulation that runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers. In any simulation, coherence truths have priority over correspondences. Moreover, in the simulations of fiction, personal truths can be explored that allow readers to experience emotions-their own emotions-and understand aspects of them that are obscure, in relation to contexts in which the emotions arise. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Book
This is a book about the nature of film: about the nature of moving images, about the viewer's relation to film, and about the kinds of narrative that film is capable of presenting. It represents a very decisive break with the semiotic and psychoanalytic theories of film which have dominated discussion. The central thesis is that film is essentially a pictorial medium and that the movement of film images is real rather than illusory. A general theory of pictorial representation is presented, which insists on the realism of pictures and the impossibility of assimilating them to language. It criticizes attempts to explain the psychology of film viewing in terms of the viewer's imaginary occupation of a position within the world of film. On the contrary, film viewing is nearly always impersonal.
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Scholars from both the social sciences and the humanities have credited fiction reading with a range of positive real-world social effects. Research in psychology has suggested that readers may make good citizens because fiction reading is associated with better social cognition. But does fiction reading causally improve social cognition? Here, we meta-analyze extant published and unpublished experimental data to address this question. Multilevel random-effects meta-analysis of 53 effect sizes from 14 studies demonstrated that it does: compared to nonfiction reading and no reading, fiction reading leads to a small, statistically significant improvement in social-cognitive performance (g = .15–.16). This effect is robust across sensitivity analyses and does not appear to be the result of publication bias. We recommend that in future work, researchers use more robust reading manipulations, assess whether the effects transfer to improved real-world social functioning, and investigate mechanisms.
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This meta-analysis investigates the extent to which people’s leisure reading may produce better social–cognitive abilities. Researchers have hypothesized that experiences of fiction (more so than nonfiction) will improve readers’ empathy and theory of mind. To capture the size of this effect, we aggregated correlations between measures of lifetime reading habits for both fiction and nonfiction with measures of empathy and theory of mind. Consistent with previous evidence, fiction reading had a larger correlation with the social–cognitive measures compared to nonfiction reading. However, the effects were small in magnitude. Heterogeneity analyses indicated that the effect sizes were consistent across studies. We also examined gender, publication status, and design as moderators. However, none of the moderators reached significance. We suggest that the results of this meta-analysis sanction a shift in research agenda toward understanding causal mechanisms.
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Conducted 4 experiments with 168 undergraduates to examine the conditions under which readers appear to infer predictable outcomes. Three retrieval paradigms were used: immediate recognition test, cued recall, and priming in word recognition. Findings indicate that on immediate test, responses to a word representing the implicit outcome were slow, but on delayed test these responses were slow or inaccurate only when primed by an explicitly stated word. However, the word expressing the predictable outcome did function as an effective recall cue. It is concluded that readers encode inferences about predictable outcomes into memory only minimally but that they can make use of a cue word that represents the inference both at the time of an immediate test and in delayed cued recall. (22 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Fiction simulates the social world and invites us into the minds of characters. This has led various researchers to suggest that reading fiction improves our understanding of others’ cognitive and emotional states. Kidd and Castano (2013) received a great deal of attention by providing support for this claim. Their article reported that reading segments of literary fiction (but not popular fiction or nonfiction) immediately and significantly improved performance on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), an advanced theory-of-mind test. Here we report a replication attempt by 3 independent research groups, with 792 participants randomly assigned to 1 of 4 conditions (literary fiction, popular fiction, nonfiction, and no reading). In contrast to Kidd and Castano (2013), we found no significant advantage in RMET scores for literary fiction compared to any of the other conditions. However, as in Kidd and Castano and previous research, the Author Recognition Test, a measure of lifetime exposure to fiction, consistently predicted RMET scores across conditions. We conclude that the most plausible link between reading fiction and theory of mind is either that individuals with strong theory of mind are drawn to fiction and/or that a lifetime of reading gradually strengthens theory of mind, but other variables, such as verbal ability, may also be at play.
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, and partly to the contents of fiction, which include complex characters and circumstances that we might not encounter in daily life. Fiction can be thought of as a form of consciousness of selves and others that can be passed from an author to a reader or spectator, and can be internalized to augment everyday cognition. In long-term associations and shorter-term experiments, engagement in fiction, especially literary fiction, has been found to prompt improvements in empathy and theory-of-mind.Improvements of empathy and theory-of-mind derive both from practice in processes such as inference and transportation that occur during literary reading, and from the content of fiction, which typically is about human characters and their interactions in the social world.Comprehension of stories shares areas of brain activation with the processing of understandings of other people.Both fiction and everyday consciousness are based on simulations of the social world; thus, reading a work of fiction can be thought of as taking in a piece of consciousness.The study of fiction helps us understand how imagination works to create possible worlds, and how mental models are formed of others and ourselves.
Book
“Literature offers a veritable treasure trove of wisdom and insights about the nature and manifestations of human emotions, yet emotion researchers have been slow to explore this exciting domain. This book represents a groundbreaking attempt to bridge the gap between scientific research and complementary literary insights on emotions. The chapters explore in considerable detail such core emotions as love, guilt, mirth, shame, and compassion, drawing on the work of such literary giants as Shakespeare. The author takes us on an exhilarating journey of discovery of the subtleties, structure, and functions of human emotions using an ingenious approach fusing art and science. This book will be warmly welcomed by all researchers, teachers, students, and professionals interested in understanding emotions, and will be enjoyed by everyone who is fascinated by the intricacies of human emotionality.” Joseph P. Forgas, University of New South Wales “In What Literature Teaches Us about Emotion, leading literary cognitivist Patrick Colm Hogan stages readings of well-selected literary texts illustrating love, grief, mirth, guilt, shame, jealousy, disgust, compassion, and pity. Beyond their thematic resonances, Hogan’s chosen texts serve as a source of knowledge about how human emotions work. Illuminating and suggestive for conversations in affective literary studies, this book lends itself to discussion in the classroom, where the dialogs about texts by means of which we come to understand our responses to the world and to one another take place.” Suzanne Keen, Washington and Lee University “What Literature Teaches Us about Emotion provides an extraordinarily lucid and insightful account of the relevance of the cognitive sciences to literary study, as well as the potential for literary studies to contribute to a genuinely interdisciplinary history of emotion.” Evelyn Tribble, University of Otago, New Zealand
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“Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts provides a much needed critical introduction to the cognitive study of the verbal, visual, and musical arts, basing its claims on the methods and findings of mainstream cognitive science. Written with authority, verve, and above all clarity, Hogan’s exciting new book will prove an indispensable guide for those new to the field and a provocative and challenging overview for those already engaged in cognitive criticism and theory.” Alan Richardson, Boston College “Tectonic shifts are fracturing old models of literary analysis and pushing forward approaches anew . . . . The work of Patrick Colm Hogan adds significantly to this new comparative scholarly impulse . . . . Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts covers a massive range of literary and other cultural phenomena like painting, film, and music, in his exploration of how authors, directors, musicians employ and re-deploy certain cognitive and emotive schemas to engage minds . . . . Using the research and insight from cognitive science allows Hogan to take us deeper and more accurately into an understanding of the many and greatly heterogeneous activities engaged in by present day humans, including literature, its authors and its readers.” Frederick Luis Aldama, University of Colorado, Boulder (at www.humanitiesretooled.org)
Article
It is said that certain kinds of fictions have the capacity to enhance our empathic powers. I offer three contributions to this debate. First, the evidence for this claim is poor. Secondly, it is important to distinguish a capacity on the part of fiction to encourage empathic responding and a capacity to enhance our rational control of empathy. Finally, I suggest a number of ways in which fiction may discourage empathy or the prosocial behaviour we expect empathy to provoke; I examine one of these ways in some detail.
Chapter
Much has been learned in the past decades about how readers comprehend discourse. In large part, advances have come about because empirical methods were developed in the 1980s that allow the examination and separation of online processes, off-line processes, and the memory representations that result from these processes. This chapter reviews these methods and shows what can be interpreted from them. We begin with several general points, continue with a discussion of particular methods, and then review new methodologies that have been developed in the last several years. In the course of these discussions, we use examples from our own research, but many others (including all the authors of the other chapters in this book) have provided similar examples. The first general point is that cognitive processes can be separated into those that occur quickly and automatically and those that occur more slowly and strategically (Posner, 1978). For example, for the sentence “The janitor swept the classroom,” a reader might infer that the janitor used a broom, and do so automatically or strategically. Usually, in the field of discourse research, interest has focused on what a reader understands without special, strategic effort. However, in other fields, such as education, it might be strategic effects that are of most interest. The second general point concerns the process by which information is retrieved from memory automatically. Theories over the past several decades have described the process as “resonance” (beginning with Lockhart, Craik, and Jacoby, 1976, and Ratcliff, 1978; first applied in discourse-processing research as the “minimalist hypothesis” by McKoon and Ratcliff, e.g., 1986; 1992). The notion of resonance is that information retrieval is a fast, passive process (i.e., an automatic one) by which cues in short-term memory interact with all the information in long-term memory in parallel.
Article
This book presents an account of the relationships among novel reading, empathy, and altruism. Though readers' and authors' empathy certainly contribute to the emotional resonance of fiction and its success in the marketplace, this book finds the case for altruistic consequences of novel reading inconclusive. It offers instead a detailed theory of narrative empathy, with proposals about its deployment by novelists and its results in readers. The book engages with neuroscience and contemporary psychological research on empathy, bringing affect to the center of cognitive literary studies' scrutiny of narrative fiction. Drawing on narrative theory, literary history, philosophy, and contemporary scholarship in discourse processing, the book brings together resources and challenges for the literary study of empathy and the psychological study of fiction reading. Empathy robustly enters into affective responses to fiction, but its proper role in shaping the behavior of emotional readers has been debated for three centuries. The book surveys these debates and offers a series of hypotheses about literary empathy, including narrative techniques inviting empathetic response. It argues that above all readers' perception of a text's fictiveness increases the likelihood of readers' empathy, by releasing readers from their guarded responses to the demands of real others. The book confirms the centrality of narrative empathy as a strategy, as well as a subject, of contemporary novelists. Despite the disrepute of putative human universals, novelists from around the world endorse the notion of shared human emotions when they overtly call upon their readers' empathy. Consequently, the book suggests, if narrative empathy is to be better understood, women's reading and popular fiction must be accorded the respect of experimental inquiry.
Article
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of reading material on both social and non-social cognition. Prior research supports the hypothesis that reading fiction improves theory of mind (Kidd and Castano, 2013, Mar et al., 2006 and Mar et al., 2009a); however, little has been done to test its effects on other cognitive abilities. In this study, we tested the effect of reading literary fiction vs. non-fiction on both theory of mind and intuitive physics understanding. In line with previous research, results indicate a small but significant within-subject effect of reading material on theory of mind once other variables are controlled. Although the experimental manipulation (literary fiction vs. nonfiction) had no effect on intuitive physics understanding, we found that familiarity with fiction predicted intuitive physics ability. These results are discussed in terms of theories of fiction.
Article
In investigating the relationship between fiction writing and perspective taking, beliefs about the ability of fiction writers to correctly infer the mental states of others were assessed via survey, in comparison to other professions. Next, two groups of fiction writers (established and intermediate) and a control group were compared across different measures of perspective taking. Possible moderating variables such as age, verbal intelligence, depressive symptoms, and fiction reading were measured. Participants provided writing samples, which were scored for quality. Analyses revealed that the general public believes fiction writers demonstrate above-average perspective-taking ability; however, empirical tests revealed no significant between-group differences on the outcome measures, nor any relationship between fiction writing quality and any outcome measures. The results of the suggest that fiction writers are no better than similar individuals who do not write fiction in terms of their ability to infer others’ mental states or take their perspectives.
Article
Mental simulation, the process of self-projection into alternate temporal, spatial, social, or hypothetical realities is a distinctively human capacity. Numerous lines of research also suggest that the tendency for mental simulation is associated with enhanced meaning. The present research tests this association specifically examining the relationship between two forms of simulation (temporal and spatial) and meaning in life. Study 1 uses neuroimaging to demonstrate that enhanced connectivity in the medial temporal lobe network, a subnetwork of the brain's default network implicated in prospection and retrospection, correlates with self-reported meaning in life. Study 2 demonstrates that experimentally inducing people to think about the past or future versus the present enhances self-reported meaning in life, through the generation of more meaningful events. Study 3 demonstrates that experimentally inducing people to think specifically versus generally about the past or future enhances self-reported meaning in life. Study 4 turns to spatial simulation to demonstrate that experimentally inducing people to think specifically about an alternate spatial location (from the present location) increases meaning derived from this simulation compared to thinking generally about another location or specifically about one's present location. Study 5 demonstrates that experimentally inducing people to think about an alternate spatial location versus one's present location enhances meaning in life, through meaning derived from this simulation. Study 6 demonstrates that simply asking people to imagine completing a measure of meaning in life in an alternate location compared with asking them to do so in their present location enhances reports of meaning. This research sheds light on an important determinant of meaning in life and suggests that undirected mental simulation benefits psychological well-being. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
Memory for emotional events is typically more vivid and accurate than memory for neutral ones. The modulation model focuses on the consolidation of memory traces to provide a partial account of enhanced emotional memory. Mediation theory focuses on encoding and retrieval to explain the selective enhancement of memory for emotional aspects of a complex event and why emotional memory also can be enhanced immediately after the experience, before consolidation has occurred. Mediation theory can therefore complement the modulation model, and together they may provide a more comprehensive account of human emotional memory.
Article
In the author recognition test (ART), participants are presented with a series of names and foils and are asked to indicate which ones they recognize as authors. The test is a strong predictor of reading skill, and this predictive ability is generally explained as occurring because author knowledge is likely acquired through reading or other forms of print exposure. In this large-scale study (1,012 college student participants), we used item response theory (IRT) to analyze item (author) characteristics in order to facilitate identification of the determinants of item difficulty, provide a basis for further test development, and optimize scoring of the ART. Factor analysis suggested a potential two-factor structure of the ART, differentiating between literary and popular authors. Effective and ineffective author names were identified so as to facilitate future revisions of the ART. Analyses showed that the ART is a highly significant predictor of the time spent encoding words, as measured using eyetracking during reading. The relationship between the ART and time spent reading provided a basis for implementing a higher penalty for selecting foils, rather than the standard method of ART scoring (names selected minus foils selected). The findings provide novel support for the view that the ART is a valid indicator of reading volume. Furthermore, they show that frequency data can be used to select items of appropriate difficulty, and that frequency data from corpora based on particular time periods and types of texts may allow adaptations of the test for different populations.
Article
An event memory is a mental construction of a scene recalled as a single occurrence. It therefore requires the hippocampus and ventral visual stream needed for all scene construction. The construction need not come with a sense of reliving or be made by a participant in the event, and it can be a summary of occurrences from more than one encoding. The mental construction, or physical rendering, of any scene must be done from a specific location and time; this introduces a "self" located in space and time, which is a necessary, but need not be a sufficient, condition for a sense of reliving. We base our theory on scene construction rather than reliving because this allows the integration of many literatures and because there is more accumulated knowledge about scene construction's phenomenology, behavior, and neural basis. Event memory differs from episodic memory in that it does not conflate the independent dimensions of whether or not a memory is relived, is about the self, is recalled voluntarily, or is based on a single encoding with whether it is recalled as a single occurrence of a scene. Thus, we argue that event memory provides a clearer contrast to semantic memory, which also can be about the self, be recalled voluntarily, and be from a unique encoding; allows for a more comprehensive dimensional account of the structure of explicit memory; and better accounts for laboratory and real-world behavioral and neural results, including those from neuropsychology and neuroimaging, than does episodic memory. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
Article
Presents a theory of norms and normality and applies the theory to phenomena of emotional responses, social judgment, and conversations about causes. Norms are assumed to be constructed ad hoc by recruiting specific representations. Category norms are derived by recruiting exemplars. Specific objects or events generate their own norms by retrieval of similar experiences stored in memory or by construction of counterfactual alternatives. The normality of a stimulus is evaluated by comparing it with the norms that it evokes after the fact, rather than to precomputed expectations. Norm theory is applied in analyses of the enhanced emotional response to events that have abnormal causes, of the generation of predictions and inferences from observations of behavior, and of the role of norms in causal questions and answers. (3 p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
In the course of understanding a narrative, readers generate participatory responses (or p-responses) that arise as a consequence of involvement in the text. For example, a reader might express a mental preference that one of a pair of combatants win a battle. In three experiments we showed that readers' p-responses, in the form of preferences about how stories will turn out, can interfere with verification of previously known information about the actual outcomes of those stories. Experiment 1 demonstrated that when readers were made to prefer a negative outcome, verification was impaired following a brief delay. In Experiment 2, impaired verification was also found when subjects confirmed the outcomes immediately after each story. In Experiment 3, preferences for negative outcomes failed to produce longer verification latencies for information that was not related to the stories' outcomes.
Article
This chapter considers how imagination generates emotion. 'Suppositionimagination' (S-imagination) is distinguished from 'enactmentimagination' (E-imagination). The former kind of imagination involves entertaining or supposing various hypothetical scenarios; with the latter kind of imagination, one tries to create a kind of facsimile of a mental state. Thus, one might try to create a perception-like state as in visual imagination or motoric imagination. It is argued that this much richer form of imagination generates typical emotional reactions to fiction. Emotional reactions to fiction are generated in several different ways, including a process in which we Eimagine being a hypothetical reader or observer of fact.
Article
As readers experience narratives, they have ample opportunities to generate expectations about likely outcomes. We suggest that past research on such expectations has ignored the extent to which readers bring their own preferences to bear on those outcomes. In four experiments, we demonstrate that reader preferences can influence expectations for future narrative events. In Experiments 1 and 2, readers made explicit judgments about the likelihood of narrative outcomes. They tended to agree with outcomes consistent with prior story contexts but also consistent with preferences. In Experiments 3 and 4, we provide converging evidence for these effects by analyzing reading times for outcomes. Participants were slower to read outcomes inconsistent with prior story contexts and preferences. Our results suggest that theories of narrative comprehension must include some notion of reader wishes and desires to adequately describe the types of outcome expectations readers use during narrative experiences.
Article
Social cognitive theory provides an agentic conceptual framework within which to analyze the determinants and psychosocial mechanisms through which symbolic communication influences human thought, affect and action. Communications systems operate through two pathways. In the direct pathway, they promote changes by informing, enabling, motivating, and guiding participants. In the socially mediated pathway, media influences link participants to social networks and community settings that provide natural incentives and continued personalized guidance, for desired change. Social cognitive theory analyzes social diffusion of new styles of behavior in terms of the psychosocial factors governing their acquisition and adoption and the social networks through which they spread and are supported. Structural interconnectedness provides potential diffusion paths; sociocognitive factors largely determine what diffuses through those paths.
Article
In an attempt to expand the scope of the disposition theory of drama and to further explore the enjoyment of media entertainment, this article reexamines how viewers form and maintain strong feelings toward media characters. To that end, schema-theory literature is employed to offer possible alternative processes by which these bonds are first formed. Secondly, the article investigates the ways that viewers seek to perpetuate and defend those strong feelings for the sake of enjoyment. Several attitude and perception theories are examined to further inform our understanding of enjoyment. Finally, the article considers the potential implications on the disposition theory of drama and on our understanding of media enjoyment in general.