Edited by Paul Sopčák, Massimo Salgaro and J. Berenike Herrmann
[Scientific Study of Literature 6:1] 2016
► pp. 42–58
On literary fiction and its effects on theory of mind
Storytelling is a hallmark human activity. We use stories to make sense of the world, to explain it to our children, to create communities, and to learn about others. This article focuses on fictional stories and their impact on complex sociocognitive abilities. Correlational and experimental evidence shows that exposure to fiction recruits and hones our ability to represent others’ mental states, or theory of mind (ToM). Experimental studies suggest this effect is specific to literary fiction. Using a unique set of texts, we replicate the finding that literary fiction improves ToM performance. Consistent with the expectation of greater focus on characters in literary fiction, linguistic analysis of the texts revealed that the literary texts contain more markers of reflective function, a sophisticated manifestation of ToM. Further analysis showed the prevalence of markers of reflective function partially mediated the effect of literary fiction on ToM performance.
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