Monday, 8 February 2016

Research Bulletin: Do "Emotional Rollercoasters" Make Stories More Persuasive?

Researchers have long been interested in how what we read influences what we think. Many of us may find, for instance, that the plot of a novel sparks our interest in a controversial issue or that its characters help us to see perspectives we hadn’t considered. But how do the stories we read change our attitudes and what makes a given story more likely to do so? Although scientists have put forth many ideas to answer this question, our emotional engagement with stories appears to be a key component to their influence. For example, our attitudes may change in response to a story because of the particular emotions it provokes and strong emotional responses may also motivate us to share the stories we read with others (e.g. Dunlop et al., 2010; Heath, Bell & Sternberg, 2001). 

A recent theory by Robin Nabi (UCSB) and Melanie Green (Buffalo) suggests, however, that the way our emotions change as we engage with stories may be equally important (Nabi & Green, 2015). In other words, shifts in how we feel as we engage with a story might evoke subsequent shifts in our opinions and attitudes -- making those shifts more powerful and long-lasting. In their article, "The Role of Narrative's Emotional Flow in Promoting Persuasive Outcomes", Nabi and Green (2015) propose several intriguing possibilities for how this may take place. 

First, we must choose to attend to a message in order for it to be persuasive and the desire to change our own emotions may play a role. As Zillman's (1988; 2000) mood management theory suggests, we choose messages that we think will evoke a desirable mood -- for instance, we may choose to read comedy to “perk us up” when we’re sad. Secondly, emotional shifts may influence how we process the stories we're engaged with. The authors give the example that points of emotional change within a story may take up more of our mental energy, and this means we are less likely to argue with its underlying message. Ultimately, this effect makes the story more persuasive. Finally, it is suggested that a flux of emotional experience may change the way we interact with a story's message after we're finished reading. We may, for example, engage in further research about a topic from the story that caught our interest. The authors explain that this is more likely to occur when the events within a story are perceived as novel or surprising and that such events are often tied to emotional changes.   

In short, it appears that it is not only emotional quality or depth that influences whether stories can change our attitudes, but also the "twists and turns" of emotions that make stories more persuasive. And in our increasingly complex world, the means by which stories harness the power to open our minds and spark change is certainly a topic worthy of further study.

Post by Shaina List

* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).

Dunlop, S. M., Kashima, Y., & Wakefield, M. (2010). Predictors and consequences
of conversations about health promoting media messages. Communication
Monographs, 77, 518–539. doi:10.1080/03637751.2010.502537

Heath, C., Bell, C., & Sternberg, E. (2001). Emotional selection in memes: The case
of urban legends. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 1028–1041.
doi:10.1037/0022-3514.81.6.1028

Nabi, R.L. & Green, M.C. (2015). The role of a narrative's emotional flow in promoting persuasive outcomes. Media Psychology, 18:2, 137-162. doi:10.1080/15213269.2014.912585

Zillmann, D. (1988). Mood management: Using entertainment to full advantage. In L.
Donohew & H. E. Sypher (Eds.), Communication, social cognition, and affect
(pp. 147–171). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zillmann, D. (2000). Mood management in the context of selective exposure theory.
Communication Yearbook, 23, 103–123.

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Monday, 25 January 2016

Writing as Exploration

At the Morgan Library in New York, one of the exhibitions is of some of Jane Austen’s letters and some drafts of her fiction. Her letters are, for the most part, continuous. As in conversation, the words seem just to have flowed. By contrast, Austen’s drafts of fiction are full of crossings-out. Some people might think of this as trial-and-error, but a far better way of thinking about it is as exploration. When one reads a novel or short story, or watches a film, one wants to engage in something that had been explored, thought about, written, re-written, explored again, explored widely.

With her colleagues, Sabina Bourgeois-Bougrine of Paris Descartes University conducted 90-minute interviews with 22 recognized French screenplay writers. The interviewers asked about:
information input (where and how the scriptwriter gets information and inspiration), mental processes (reasoning, planning, thinking, daydreaming, problem solving, decision making), relationships with others, job context, and constraints (p. 385).
The authors of the paper propose a metaphor: writing is traversing a maze of creativity. It is as if writers make a journey in which they navigate several segments, going up blind alleys, doubling back, finding the best pathways. The authors propose three phases. First there is a long and enjoyable phase of what they call “impregnation,” which often involves making maps of the coming journey. This is followed by a phase that the authors call “structuring,” which for screenwriting involves writing an outline and/or treatment that a director, a producer, or a sponsor, must accept before a project can be financed to go forward. In the third phase there is intense writing and re-writing of the script.

Writing scripts and writing for print fiction are in many ways similar, but whereas those who write novels and short stories often work mostly alone and at a certain stage with an editor, scriptwriting is a journey with several others. The authors of this paper say: “The process of rewriting several versions of the script seems to be universal among screenplay writers, engaging often the producer of the film, actors, and so forth (p. 396). The moral standpoints, the views, the ideas, and the preferences, of these people need to be taken into account. Successful scriptwriting depends, in part, on being able to maintain good working relationships with all of them.
In addition, they [the scriptwriters] reported that as one “gets into the skin of the main character,” “understands the character,” and “makes him talk,” they often experience enjoyable moments in which intuition, unconscious, and automatic process take over the generation and selection of creative ideas (p. 397).
The authors offer many other fascinating quotes from the scriptwriters. Here’s one about the first phase:
when I find a good idea, or a scene that I like, I turn around it. Generally, I do a lot of things that are indirectly related to the work, I read a lot, I copy many texts that interest me, I see a lot of movies, I listen to a lot of music (p. 390).
Here is a quote from a scriptwriter about the second phase:
You can have all the talent and all the literary imagination—which are two essential components of the profession—if you don’t have the skills for this tedious task of structuring, you cannot go far. This is something that has more to do with math, a kind of mental structure or consistency: such cause produces such effect (p. 392).
And, here’s a quote from a scriptwriter about the final phase:
There is a constant fluctuation. There are only manic-depressive people in this profession! (laughs). It’s like climbing stairs toward an untouchable star, because in fact at each step we need to climb another one, and as the goal is to reach an untouchable star, we are always in this situation (p. 395).
One reason why Bourgeois-Bougrine and her colleagues’ metaphor of the maze is such a good one is that, although they don’t say this, for a really good story nearly the whole maze needs to have been explored. When this has happened, the watcher of the movie (or the reader of the book) will get the sense that the route taken in the story is a good one in comparison with all the less-good turnings that could have been taken.

Bourgeois-Bougrine, S., Glaveneau, V., Botella, M., Guillou, K., De Biasi, P. M., & Lubart, T. (2014). The creativity maze: Exploring creativity in screenplay writing. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8, 384-399.

Image: Cawthorne Maze, South Yorkshire.

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Monday, 18 January 2016

Research Bulletin: Engaging with Compelling Stories and Promoting Prosocial Behavior

Deep engagement in a narrative is sometimes known as “transportation”, based on the metaphor of being transported into a narrative world (Gerrig, 1993). This includes our level of immersion in a narrative, including our ability to understand, pay attention to, and have strong emotional experiences in reaction to characters and events in a narrative. Being deeply transported into a narrative also makes us more likely to be persuaded by the themes embedded in the story. Kelly A. Correa, Bradly T. Stone, Maja Stikic, Robin R. Johnson, and Chris Berka (Advanced Brain Monitoring, inc.) set out to find whether narratives could promote prosocial behaviour, such as donating to a charity. Their study involved participants (N = 49) watching a video of a professional storyteller telling one of two possible versions of a story, with both stories having a theme of fairness and justice. The two versions of the story differed in the level of injustice present at the story’s resolution, along with the degree of empathy elicited toward the protagonist and antagonist. While watching the video, the researchers monitored the heart-rate of the participants to gauge their emotional reactions to the story. After viewing the video, participants completed questionnaires about the narrative and their level of immersion in the story. Lastly, participants had the opportunity to donate to a charity of their choice at the end of the study (out of a selection of 3 possible charities). 

The researchers found that the level of injustice portrayed in the story had an effect on participants’ decision to donate. Only 21.7% participants who listened to the version of the story with the unjust resolution donated, compared to 46.2% of the participants exposed to the just resolution. Additionally, participants’ emotional states and the variability in their heart rate predicted their donation behaviour. 

This study provides evidence that narratives can persuade and influence concrete prosocial behaviour. It also highlights how emotion plays an important role in motivating the behaviours endorsed by a story. 

Correa, K. A., Stone, B. T., Stikic, M., Johnson, R. R., & Berka, C. (2015). Characterizing donation behaviour from psychophysiological indices of narrative experience. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9:301. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00301

Gerrig, R. J. (1993). Experiencing narrative worlds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Post by Lilach Dahoah-Halevi

Please consider donating to support Literature for Life.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Re-appreciating Place

Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in a long-term learning project that has been named after various geographic regions where it takes place – in the case I participated in in northern Georgia, it is the Piedmont Project. In northern Arizona, it’s the Ponderosa Project, and I hear that there are many additional regional variants.  

These projects exist to engage faculty in the places in which they teach, and through that engagement, to support them in taking on sustainability themes in their courses—whether that be through explicit learning for sustainability and “education for sustainable development” (something the U.N. has just completed a decade of promoting), or rather more lightly through taking on a sustainability-themed example in a language class, for example, translating an explanation of campus recycling or energy conservation efforts. We returned repeatedly to the power of places for reminding people both of the most common tropes of sustainability work—the material processes of our everyday lives and their effects—and also, and perhaps more importantly, for engaging people in the wonder that inspires sustainability work, that makes people reflect on what should be sustained for all people to thrive in the long term.

I was prompted to share my experience because as a geographer, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about and exploring place. But like any canon one learns, there can be a tendency with things once learned to seem like something everyone has learned. So no matter how much impact it had when I was first encountering the power of really noticing place, and paying attention to its qualities, and what being in place FELT like, it has still been remarkably easy to set it aside and not focus on what it offers in terms of entry points to experiential learning. 

Noticing place has its weirdnesses, too: in this amazing, clearly very place-inspired meeting spot, all of the bathrooms were graced with air freshener whose location in Georgia seemed to invite considerable analysis: I challenge anyone to describe the smell of TimeMist Clean Cotton—and to tell us where that places them.

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Monday, 4 January 2016

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Published this summer and whizzing up the best-seller lists in Britain and North America is the first novel by Ruth Ware: In a dark, dark wood. It’s a thriller, but an unusual one in that it’s about people’s personalities and their relationships rather than about a cold-blooded assassin or about how the world will end if the protagonist doesn’t do something impossible.

The protagonist and first-person narrator in this novel is Leonora Shaw. She lives alone in a tiny flat in Hackney, in London. She is one of a group of people who receive an e-mail from someone she doesn’t know called Flo, to come to a hen party before the wedding of Clare who had been Leonora’s best friend in high-school. Leonora walked out of the school when she was 16. Now it’s ten years later and she has not seen Clare at all during that time. She doesn’t know what to do about the e-mail from Flo. She contacts Nina, whom she sees in the list of people who have received the e-mail. She had met Nina at university, and the two of them have kept in touch. They decide to go.

The hen party takes place over a weekend in a modern glass-built house in the middle of a dark, dark wood in the north of England. In the main room of the house, above the fireplace hangs a shotgun. Is this Chekhov’s gun? Yes it is. By the middle of the story, it does go off.

There are six people at the party: Clare, Leonora, Nina, Flo, Melanie, and Tom. Clare is someone who is instantly attractive. She’s beautiful, warm, thoughtful, loyal. Anyone would be pleased to have her as a friend. Leonora is a bit of a recluse, a bit of a whiner, a bit of a wimp, but we come to identify with her and to like her well enough, though we do wonder whether she might be unreliable as a narrator. Nina is six-foot-one and outgoing; she is a surgeon who swears a lot, and smokes roll-ups. Flo is Clare’s current best friend. She would do anything for Clare, and amongst these anythings has been the organization of the hen party. She has a diagnosable borderline personality disorder. To put it more technically she’s a roof job. Then there is Melanie, who is breast-feeding a six-month-old baby. While away from her child at the party, she has to pump and dump. Last there is Tom, who writes for the theatre. He’s not quite a hen, but he is gay. Does this sound like an Agatha Christie story? Are these the suspects?

Unusual in a thriller is that the depictions of Clare, Leonora, Nina, and Flo are sufficiently intricate and engaging that one would be pleased to find them in a literary novel. The tension for readers, which builds in a satisfying way, starts with Leonora wondering why she has been invited to the hen party but not to the wedding. Who's Clare about to marry?  It turns out to be James with whom Leonora was closely involved at high school; they, too, have not seen each other for ten years. The sense grows that the hen party is—as one might expect in a thriller—a set up. But why? For what? For whom? Ruth Ware is good at depicting the relationships among the women, and good too using the interactions among them to build a sense of uneasy foreboding.

It’s brilliant of Ruth Ware to write a thriller in which understanding what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen, occurs through coming to understand the story’s characters in a theory-of-mind kind of way.

Ware, R. (2015). In a dark, dark wood. London: Harvill Secker.

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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Research Bulletin: Genre Matters When it Comes to Reading to Improve your Verbal Skills

The fact that reading can help people to grow their vocabulary and develop their verbal abilities is one of the most well-established findings within educational research. Decades of research have affirmed that reading is one of the main ways that we learn about language (Mol & Bus, 2011). But does what we read make a difference? My graduate student Marina Rain (York University) and I set out to investigate this question. In order to do so, we conducted 4 studies, each examining how lifetime reading habits related to performance on tests tapping different aspects of verbal ability: (1) synonyms (N = 340), (2) analogies (N = 227), (3) sentence completion (N = 219), and (4) reading comprehension (N = 174). The latter 3 were measured using items from the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a standardized test employed throughout the United States to evaluate college applicants. What we found was that reading fiction was more strongly associated with verbal ability across the 4 different studies. In many cases, when controlling for the reading of nonfiction, fiction remained a good predictor of verbal ability. However, when lifetime reading habits related to fiction were controlled, nonfiction became a much weaker predictor and in some cases failed to predict verbal abilities at all. In light of these results, future work is needed to uncover why exactly it is that reading fiction appears to be more beneficial for developing verbal abilities relative to reading nonfiction. What these data do show, is that what we read appears to be just as important as that we read when it comes to improving our verbal abilities. 

* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).

Mol, S. E., & Bus, A. G. (2011). To read or not to read: A meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 267–296. 

Mar, R. A. & Rain, M. (2015). Narrative fiction and expository nonfiction differentially predict verbal ability. Scientific Studies of Reading, 19, 419-433.

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Monday, 21 December 2015

Feeding Movements


The past several weeks in Minneapolis have been tumultuous if hopeful. Protests have gathered since the November 15 police killing of Jamar Clark, and these have revealed both the volatile persistence of white supremacy (via the subsequent terrorism and shooting of peaceful protestors) and also, via sustained caring work of thousands of people to support the various needs of those involved, the steady persistence of communities determined to dismantle racism and its institutions.

As an identifiably white woman involved in food movement work (where white women form a corps of allies—although with a longstanding and often problematic and privileged history of unsuccessfully trying to make things better), I am cautious about the ways I seek to discharge my own feelings of frustration and dismay over the injustices being protested. I vocally appreciate the many efforts that have been made to push back against policies intentionally designed to exploit and injure—like redlining and other "black rules" that keeps people of color from homeownership and other loans that make middle class stability possible—and I am also vocal in revising the stories that blame the failures of extending middle class participation equitably on those from whom it has been withheld. Now in the midst of the North American holiday season, my brother has been jokingly sharing helpful how-to lists about avoiding politics and rancor at family meals, recognizing the number of times I have helped clear the end of the dinner table lingering by taking my male relatives up on their baiting rants about black fatherhood responsibility or unemployment patterns or the current complaint about political correctness. I find the conservative-talk-show-fueled handbook of explanations about social issues irresistibly compelling in part because it opens conversational doors my aunts and colleagues, for example, are more likely to ignore. And once opened, there are so many stories of dispossession resisted, of calories withheld and recreated anyways, of food knowledge suppressed but sewn in seeds into hems, and persisting to nourish people in their long, long fight to even be recognized as having food knowledge, as deserving land and love and repair, and as our relatives, our neighbors, people to whom we have responsibilities of basic human decency, even if we cannot understand the abstract ways we are implicated in their traumatic histories of enslavement and discrimination, and the ways finance and property and educational systems continue to benefit us at their expense.

So given eighteen days when this conversation is brought out into the streets, where white people walk tentatively down the sidewalk to say they are neighbors and want to be supportive but that they do not understand what is at stake and how we have gotten to this point of conflict, I found myself needing to be there, not because I felt like I could help so much as because I felt so overwhelmed with helplessness and disempowering rage otherwise. Being there, the Black Lives Matters leaders gave a focus to my emotion; I could find tasks needing doing, and orientation to keep on in the face of this offered while working alongside people who have to live with this rage and systemic disempowerment.

Maybe I was a little bit helpful for some of those white folks who were wanting to enter a conversation and needed someone with the time to talk them through some history, or for the various crews where I was able to help keep people fed or warm or sustained in some other way, including the nerdy crew of mostly outsiders who launched into the project of catching ourselves up on the history of the community centered around this police station (built symbolically on the site of a former community center). But more than anything, what I was able to do there was to learn viscerally how movements feed themselves, both practically and intangibly, using their overwhelming emotion as the fuel that sustains movement logistics, and practically giving many the chance to learn what’s happening and why and how, and how to be fundamentally human, through the chance to feed each other—to give and receive food, and in talking over its practicalities, to reproduce a community, find out what it needs, and find out how one is a part of it.

After asking hundreds of protesters dancing in the streets and listening to the speeches of American Indian Movement and Black Lives Matter speakers and singers after a march on City Hall whether they had a pocket tool that might open some of the many cans of food donated, I tied this can opener above to the kitchen tent during the first week of the protest. And I’m sure it was bulldozed at the end (somewhere around 36:00 here...); but after being sent on mission to find it in the nearby neighborhood grocery store (the one amidst the 37 fast food restaurants and one ascendant sit-down, youth-employing, amazing community-anchoring cafĂ© and the similarly inspiring West Broadway Farmers Market), I kept the other one in my pocket because I know I’ll continue to need it.

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Monday, 7 December 2015

Research Bulletin: Characters we Love to Hate

For many of us, watching a television show or a movie is not simply a passive experience. We may cringe when characters make mistakes, cheer when they succeed, and even yell out warnings when they may be in danger. Researchers have coined the term parasocial interaction to explain this phenomenon and their research has shown that some viewers react to fictional characters as if they were present in real life. Most of the research so far has focused on emotional and behavioural reactions to liked TV characters. Specifically, some viewers form emotional bonds with favourite characters and respond to them as if they were friends. But is this parasocial interaction limited to liked characters?  It is easy to think of characters we “love to hate,” such as the infamous Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones. Anecdotal accounts of these characters’ ability to stir strong emotions in us (and the occasional outburst of jeers) suggest that parasocial interaction with disliked characters is a real possibility. 

Jayson Dibble (Hope College) and Sarah Rosaen (University of Michigan – Flint) conducted a study to see if parasocial interaction can occur in the presence of a disliked fictional character. Participants were told to select either a liked or a disliked TV character and answer some questions regarding the characters they chose. Interestingly, participants were just as likely to report behavioural responses (e.g., making comments, yelling) toward liked characters as they were toward disliked characters. That being said, the intensity of parasocial interaction with liked characters was stronger compared to disliked characters. For example, participants reported greater perceived mutual awareness in the case of a liked character (i.e., feeling that the character was aware of being watched). Not surprisingly, participants also reported greater feelings of friendship and concern toward a liked character compared to a disliked character. 

This study offers preliminary evidence that people may react to disliked TV characters as if they were physically present in their living room. The findings suggest that parasocial interaction is not limited to liked fictional characters and opens the door to exciting new research possibilities in this field. 

Dibble, J. L., & Rosaen, S. F. (2011). Parasocial interaction as more than friendship. Journal of Media Psychology, 23(3), 122–132. doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000044

* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).

Post by Marina Rain.

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Monday, 30 November 2015

Harry Potter in the fMRI Machine

How do readers immerse themselves in thrilling passages of novels and short stories? Some principles are clear. First the writer depicts a protagonist whom readers like. Next, usually by the agency of an antagonist, the protagonist is put in danger. The reader experiences empathetic fear on behalf of the protagonist, and reads on to see how he or she will fare. In cognitive studies of literature, this experience of becoming engaged in a story is called immersion, or becoming lost in a book.

In a study of the brain regions involved in thrill-based immersion, Chen-Ting Hsu, Markus Conrad, and Arthur Jacobs, of the Free University of Berlin, had people in a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging  (fMRI) machine read brief passages (each four lines long) selected from Harry Potter books to be either fear inducing or neutral and, after each passage had been read, they collected ratings of how the participants felt during reading. Participants had to have read at least one Harry Potter book previously, to take part in the experiment.

The researchers found that immersion was significantly higher for the fear inducing passages than for the neutral passages, and that the main area of activation in the brain was the mid-cingulate cortex. It has been proposed that this region is associated with empathy for personal distress. In the fear-inducing passages used in this study, rather than emotions being labelled there was an emphasis on actions associated with these emotions. Emphasis on action-based aspects was thought to be important in engaging the readers, and it connects with the hypothesized function of the mid-cingulate cortex in motor rather than sensory processes. 

The induction of empathetic fear in readers isn’t the only process by which readers become engaged in stories but the fact that the thriller genre has become popular indicates that for many it is a significant one. For immersion to occur it seems important for readers to experience emotions, not the emotions of the characters but their own emotions, perhaps empathetically, and by imagined actions, in the circumstances that protagonists enter.

Hsu, C.-T., Conrad, M., & Jacobs, A. M. (2014). Fiction feelings in Harry Potter: Haemodynamic response in the mid-cingulate cortex correlates with immersive reading experience. NeuroReport, 25, 1356-1361.

Image: Activation of mid-cingulate cortex during reading of fear-inducing passages in Fig 1b of Hsu et al.’s study. 
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Monday, 23 November 2015

Research Bulletin: The Genre of Book Matters When It Comes to Complex Conversations Between Parent and Child During Joint-Reading

Book-sharing experiences provide a perfect opportunity for learning and communication between parents and children, allowing for conversations that may be more abstract, complex, and cognitively demanding. Nyhout and O’Neill (2012) examined how complex the conversations were around a book read jointly by mothers and their toddlers. Importantly, they looked at possible differences between reading a narrative book that told a story and a more didactic book that aimed to teach new words and concepts. The authors carefully controlled for other aspects of the books, such as book length, content, and amount of text. They then asked 25 mothers and their children to read a book together. The researchers recorded the conversations that occurred during joint-reading and measured the relative amount of the conversations that were more complex in nature. When reading the narrative, mothers tended to include more complex talk, such as a greater variety of tenses as well as more references to mental state (e.g., emotions, thoughts, beliefs). Mothers also seemed to encourage behaviors that adults engage in while reading, such as anticipating what will happen next and looking for patterns or similarities. The researchers suggest that reading narrative books may contribute to the child’s abstract thinking abilities, whereas didactic books may improve factual and vocabulary knowledge. This study illuminates how different genres should be considered when considering the impact of reading, even for young children reading with their parents. 

Nyhout, A., & O’Neill, D. K. (2013). Mothers’ complex talk when sharing books with their toddlers: Book genre matters. First Language, 33(2), 115–131. doi:10.1177/0142723713479438

* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).

Post by Tatiana Nichol.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Research Bulletin: Does TV Help Us Understand Others?

A number of studies have examined whether reading books is related to one’s ability to infer what other people are thinking and feeling. On the whole, both correlational and experimental work find that exposure to fiction literature predicts better abilities at inferring mental states (e.g., Kidd & Castano, 2013; Mar et al., 2006). But is this effect limited to the written word? Jessica Black and Dr. Jennifer Barnes (University of Oklahoma) decided to examine whether exposing people to award-winning television shows could prompt people to be more accurate at guessing what others are feeling. In their first study, people watched either a TV episode from a narrative fiction series (Mad Men or The West Wing), or as a control condition, and episode from a documentary TV series (Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back or How the Universe Works). Afterwards, both groups completed a measure of their mental inferencing abilities. What they found was that those who watched a piece of fiction exhibited better mental-inferencing abilities than those randomly assigned to watch the documentary TV episode. This was true even after controlling for gender and past reading habits. A second study replicated these results using different a different set of TV shows (Lost and The Good Wife for fiction, versus Through the Wormhole: Is Time Travel Possible? and NOVA: Colosseum: Roman Death Trap). These results provide a fascinating extension of work on how engagement with narrative fiction, in all its forms, might promote thinking about other people and their mental states. 

* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).

Black, J. & Barnes, J. L. (in press). Fiction and social cognition: The effect of viewing award-winning television dramas on theory-of-mind. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and
the Arts.

Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342, 377–380.

Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., Hirsh, J., de la Paz, J., & Peterson, J. (2006) Bookworms versus nerds:
Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the
simulation of fictional social worlds. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 694–712.
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Monday, 9 November 2015

Quick Hit: The Library Passport

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) is one of the largest public library systems in North America and the world's busiest urban library. It’s not only large, but also one of the most diverse and creative libraries as well. Branches offer not only books and magazines, but also loan out DVDs, CDs, pedometers for measuring your steps, and even time on a 3D printer! A full suite of online services is also available, with library users able to borrow eBooks, online magazines, stream music and movies, and make use of free accounts for online learning sites like lynda.com. Expanding to the online realm hasn’t diminished the importance of the brick-and-mortar locations by any means, with physical branches providing important services like mortgage workshops and even the occasional speed-dating night. New branches continue to be built, with the system as a whole adapting well as new neighborhoods blossom across the city. With winter approaching, why not task yourself with visiting all 100 branches of the good old TPL as fun winter activity? Designer Noah Ortmann has created The Toronto Library Passport to help you find each branch and record your experiences. It’s a beautiful document, featuring gorgeous typography. It also contains useful information like opening hours for each branch to ensure that you don’t encounter shut doors, along with a map. This would make a wonderful present for any lover of books, libraries, or the city. It’s also such a great idea that it would be nice to see this expanded to other city library systems. If you’re a fan of the TPL, please also consider donating to their foundation to help support this vital part of our city. 

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