In early July, the International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media held its 13th Biennial meeting. Originally named in German as Internationale Gesellschaft für Empirische Literaturwissenschaft, the society take IGEL as its acronym, which means hedgehog in German. IGEL has long been at the forefront of promoting empirical psychological research into literature and fiction more broadly, and it recently launched its own peer-reviewed journal, Scientific Studies of Literature, edited by Willie van Peer. A number of fascinating presentations took place at IGEL 2012, and here we summarize just a few highlights to give readers a “first taste” of new research that is often on the cusp of entering the published literature.
Jonathan Leavitt, who published a fascinating study last year on spoilers (covered in this OnFiction post), presented a new series of studies demonstrating that although readers often cannot distinguish between fiction and nonfiction (based solely on the text), they respond differently to these two genres with respect to preferences and liking.
OnFiction’s own Maja Djikic (University of Toronto), presented a study demonstrating that reading a short-story produces an increase in self-reported cognitive empathy, but reading a short essay has no such effect. This effect, however, only occurred for individuals who had little appreciation for aesthetics and art.
Paul Sopcak (University of Alberta), examined how different readers respond to passages from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and found that a subset of readers express deep engagement with the existential themes of these passages.
Keith Oatley (University of Toronto), a founder and editor of OnFiction, presented new data on how literature can change how we see ourselves, showing that it is the artistic qualities of the text that determine this possibility for self-transformation, rather than the genres of fiction or nonfiction per se.
Based at the Medical University of Vienna, Benedikt Till presented fascinating data showing that watching a censored version of a film depicting capital punishment, where the execution scene has been omitted, actually produces stronger negative reactions against the death penalty compared to watching a film that presents this execution in a graphic manner.
Lastly, Katrina Fong (York University) examined whether how exposure to different literary genres is related to one’s ability to infer what other people are thinking and feeling. Perhaps surprisingly, after controlling for various factors, only two genres were related to interpersonal sensitivity: romance and suspense/thriller.
There were so many fascinating presentations made at this conference, and this is just a small taste of the work on display. A copy of the full program can be found here, and we are all very much looking forward to the next conference in 2014.