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And, to show that the psychology of fiction is reaching maturity, here's a research bulletin on a new article, published on-line in the American Psychological Association's principal journal of social psychology. It's by Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby (2012), and it draws on the theory of fiction-as-simulation, that we at OnFiction have been exploring.
Kaufman and Libby start their article with the following epigraph from Hayakawa (1990):
In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.
readers simulate the events of a narrative as though they were a particular character in the story world, adopting the character’s mindset and perspective as the story progresses rather than orienting themselves as an observer or evaluator of the character (p. 2 of the pre-publication paper.)
Kaufman and Libby chose the term experience-taking to mean a merging with the character, a loss of the self-other distinction. It is to be compared with perspective-taking, in which one keeps one's identity and at the same time understands what another person is thinking and feeling.
In their first three experiments, Kaufman and Libby looked at the relationship between people's awareness of their own self and their level of experience-taking while reading the piece of narrative they were given. In Experiment 1, the researchers found that the higher people's scores were on a measure of consciousness of their own individual experience, the lower were their scores on experience-taking as they read the story. In Experiment 2, readers who were asked to think of themselves generically, as average students, independently of what they were studying, as compared with thinking of themselves as individuals, had higher scores on experience-taking when reading. In Experiment 3, participants who read the story in a cubicle with a mirror in it, as compared to reading in a cubicle without a mirror, had lower scores on experience-taking.
In their second group of studies, Kaufman and Libby manipulated the experimental conditions. In Experiment 4, they found that narratives told in first-person voice induced more experience-taking in readers than narratives told in third-person voice. In Experiments 5 and 6, they found that later as compared with earlier introduction into a narrative of information that indicated that a protagonist was a member of a group (respectively homosexual or African-American) of which the reader was not a member, increased experience-taking.
This paper is an important step in understanding conditions of narratives that encourage identification in terms of entering lives other than just the ones given to us by chance and circumstance.
Samuel Hayakawa (1990). Language in thought and action. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Geoff Kaufman & Lisa Libby (2012). Changing beliefs and behavior through experience-taking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027525