Wednesday 7 February 2024

Research Bulletin: Does Reading Foster Morality or Lead to Moral Erosion?

The effect of reading on a person’s morality has been a topic of debate for decades, with people raising arguments that it either helps or hinders moral development. Two competing theories argue that fiction either promotes morality by increasing empathy (i.e., fiction as moral laboratory), or that exposure to fiction that portrays deviations from real-world morality increases acceptance of “immoral” things (i.e., moral boundary erosion). To better understand which of the two theories is most likely true, Black and Barnes (2021) investigated the relationship between literature consumption (i.e., non-fiction, adult fiction, and young adult fiction) and individual differences in morality. Across two cross-sectional studies, undergraduates were given measures of empathy, morality, and moral permissibility, as well as measures of exposure to adult fiction, young adult fiction, and non-fiction. If fiction acts as a moral laboratory, there should be positive associations between fiction exposure and both empathy and morality. Conversely, if the theory of moral boundary erosion is true, there will be an association between exposure to different types of literature and moral permissibility. Across both studies, fiction exposure predicted empathy and morality, which offers support for the theory of fiction as a moral laboratory. They also found that reading both fiction and nonfiction was associated with greater moral permissibility, lending support to the theory of moral boundary erosion. Findings regarding the different types of fiction (i.e., adult fiction and young adult fiction) were inconsistent across studies and small in size, and therefore difficult to interpret. Overall, the findings suggest that the association between reading and morality is complex and multi-faceted, and that more research on this topic is required in order to further understand how, and why, the two are related.

Black, J. E., & Barnes, J. L. (2021). Fiction and morality: Investigating the associations between reading exposure, empathy, morality, and moral judgment. Psychology of Popular Media, 10(2), 149–164.
Post by Shyamaly Vasuthevan

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev via Pexels.

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Wednesday 13 December 2023

Research Bulletin: Who Is More Likely To Help You In A Video Game?

With the growing popularity of video games, developers bear a heavier responsibility to ensure that their games do not foster toxicity and unsupportive behaviour among players. Johnson and colleagues (2021) decided to investigate when helping behaviour was more likely to occur in video games. In order to do so, they examined two kinds of passion people can have for a hobby: harmonious and obsessive passion. Harmoniously passionate people describe their hobby positively and can engage in it without the risk of negative consequences. In contrast, obsessively passionate people show the same enthusiasm but they tend to neglect other goals or activities while engaging in their hobby. These researchers also suspected that empathy might motivate people to help others in the game. Based on data from 389 participants, they found that player empathy did indeed predict more helping. However, both types of passion were not strongly related to helping behaviour, so empathy appears to be the most important factor. That said, harmonious passion was associated with greater empathy, whereas obsessive passion was associated with less empathy. Based on these findings, empathetic people tend to be more helpful in video games, and those who approach their gaming hobby with harmonious passion are likely to be more empathetic. Given the potential transfer between in-game and real-life behaviour, game developers need to create games that promote empathetic behaviour. Furthermore, building relatedness in gaming communities might be one way to decrease toxicity, creating more welcoming gaming communities.

Johnson, D., Zhao, X., White, K. M., & Wickramasinghe, V. (2021). Need satisfaction, passion, empathy and helping behaviour in videogame play. Computers in Human Behavior, 122, 106817.

Post by Claire Regina Kurniawan

Photo by Matilda Wormwood via Pexels


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Friday 16 June 2023

Research Bulletin: Reading and Student Stress

Mental health is a pressing concern for university students, with increasing numbers of students seeking mental health services in recent years. Dr. Shelby Levine and colleagues (2020) investigated whether recreational reading could improve the mental health of students by helping them fulfill core psychological needs. They hypothesized that recreational reading could decrease feelings of isolation and low competence, and serve as a form of resistance against restrictive academic environments.
At the beginning of the academic year, 201 college students reported their psychological distress, recreational reading goals, and autonomous motivation to read (i.e., of their own volition). At the end of the year, psychological distress and recreational reading achievements were measured again. The researchers discovered that psychological distress was much greater in all students at the end of the year. However, those who read more books had a smaller increase in distress than those who had read less. Further, autonomous motivation to read predicted a more ambitious reading goal, as well as more books completed by the end of the year. Lastly, the more books students read, the less frustrated they felt in terms of core needs, which led to less distress.
The authors conclude that fostering an intrinsic love of recreational reading in children and youth should be a key goal for parents and teachers. Based on their findings, promoting and supporting a love for reading could be an effective way to help students cope with the stressors of university.

Post by Shyamaly Vasuthevan

* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels. 

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Wednesday 15 February 2023

Research Bulletin: Are Meaningful Narratives More Likely to Promote Social Cognition?

Although a great deal of research has examined whether stories help to promote social cognition, most of this work has been on adults and not delved much into different types of stories. Hannah N. M. De Mulder and colleagues (2022) took it upon themselves to examine this question in adolescents, with a focus on comparing different modalities of presentation (i.e., books, television, film), and hedonic narratives to eudaimonic ones. Eudaimonic narratives prompt audiences to consider deep truths about the world, conveying a sense of meaning and often eliciting experiences of “being moved” by the story (Oliver & Raney, 2011). In contrast, hedonic narratives are focused on providing pleasure for audiences, such as positive emotions and excitement. The researchers asked 126 children aged 8 to 16 how often they read books (or watched television/film) that was hedonic or eudaimonic in nature, and also measured their social abilities in three different ways (self-report, emotion recognition, and the ability to infer mental states). Using a Bayesian approach to analyzing their data, they evaluated whether the data was more or less consistent with several different possibilities. In this population of adolescents, they found little consistent evidence that books, TV, and film predict better social abilities. However, they did observe that exposure to meaningful narratives was associated with better social skills, in particular for television and film. This work highlights the importance of studying a variety of populations, and types of media, when researching the relation between stories and social cognition.


De Mulder, H. N. M., Hakemulder, F., Klaassen, F., Junge, C. M. M., Hoijtink, H., & van Berkum, J. J. A. (2022). Figuring Out What They Feel: Exposure to eudaimonic narrative Fiction is related to mentalizing ability. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 16, 242–258.

Oliver, M. B., & Raney, A. A. (2011). Entertainment as pleasurable and meaningful: Identifying hedonic and eudaimonic motivations for entertainment consumption. Journal of Communication, 61, 984–1004.

Post by Raymond Mar
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels
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Thursday 26 January 2023

Health from Fiction

Over the years the writers of articles for OnFiction have argued that short stories and novels, as well as plays, films, and nowadays some video games, offer us insights into the minds of others and into the nature of human interactions. 

A parallel set of arguments has been offered in our understanding of human health and illness. Among the foremost contributors here has been Ad Kaptain, a medical psychologist at Leiden University Medical Centre in Belgium. Some of his articles are listed below.


Among Kaptein’s interests is in how people experience being ill. One of his ideas is that empathy from doctors and nursing staff can have a beneficial effect on the wellbeing and recovery of patients. Kaptein is convinced that literature can help to improve empathy in those working in healthcare.


One of the works that Kaptain discusses in an article that he published in 2022, in the Journal of Health Psychology, is Margaret Edson’s Wit: “the Pulitzer prize winning novel/play about coping with ovarian cancer and the associated struggle between patient and health care providers” (p. 1618). Another work that he discusses is Thomas Bernhard’s The Breath, from which he quotes this: “ … but it was impossible to speak to them …The doctors on the ward-round never did anything to enlighten their patients in the death ward, and in consequence all three patients were effectively abandoned, both medically and morally.” Then comes the following: “Every day they appeared in front of my bed, a white wall of unconcern in which no trace of humanity was discernable” (p. 1619).


Kaptain refers to the work of our research group, in which we have found that engaging with fiction can enable people to increase their empathy (see e.g. Mar 2018). Perhaps “people” might include health care providers of the kind that are referred to in works such as Edson’s Wit and Bernhard’s The Breath.


Kaptein A. A. et al. (2018) Start making sense: Art informing health psychology. Health Psychology Open 5: 1–13.


Kaptein A. A. et al. (2020) Heart in Art: cardiovascular diseases in novels, films, and paintings. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 15: 2.


Kaptain, A. A. (2022). Novels as data: Health humanities and health psychology. Journal of Health Psychology, 27, 1615-1625.


Mar, R. A. (2018). Evaluating whether stories can promote social cognition: Introducing the Social Processes and Content Entrained by Narrative (SPaCEN) framework. Discourse Processes, 5/6, 454–479.

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Thursday 5 January 2023

Research Bulletin: Are Some Types of Book Titles Better Liked and Better Remembered?

Humans spend vast amounts of time engaging with fictional stories. There are four main theories that help to explain this love for fiction. First, fiction contains social and psychological experiences of the characters, which helps us gain a better understanding of our own world (Mar & Oatley, 2008). Second, humans are drawn to gossip, which is essentially what fiction is. Fiction gives us a window into the social relationships of the characters. Third, humans are drawn to the moral content of fiction. People enjoy rooting for the good guys, but also enjoy stories about morally ambiguous characters (Janicke & Raney, 2015). Lastly, fiction is associated with hard-wired pleasures, such as an attraction to wealth, power, and beauty (Pinker, 1997).
Barnes and Black (2022) wanted to examine whether book titles containing words associated with these four theories would be more appealing and better remembered than titles without such words. The researchers generated five different words associated with each of the four theories. For example, the words “guilty, innocence, virtue, taboo, and evil” were used to create titles related to morality. Five titles that were not related to any of the four categories were selected from the USA Today Bestseller list, to act as the control titles. Undergraduates were then randomly assigned to view these titles, rate how appealing each
was, and then were tested on their memory for each title.
Participants rated the titles associated with the four main categories (i.e., mental states, gossip, morality, and pleasure) as more appealing than the control titles. For recall, the “mental states” category was the least well remembered out of all the categories. Next time you go to the bookstore, it would be fun to see whether the bestselling books have titles related to mental states, gossip, pleasure, or morality!
Barnes, J. L., & Black, J. E. (2022). What’s in a name? Book title salience and the
psychology of fiction. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 16(2), 290–301.
Janicke, S. H., & Raney, A. A. (2015). Exploring the role of identification and moral
disengagement in the enjoyment of an antihero television series. Communications, 40(4),
Mar, R. A., & Oatley, K. (2008). The function of fiction is the abstraction and simulation of
social experience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(3), 173–192.
Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. Norton Company.
Post by Tia Kleiner
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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Tuesday 29 November 2022

Research Bulletin: Fiction and Mental Inferencing in a Latin American Sample

Theory of Mind, or mentalizing, is an aspect of cognitive empathy that refers to the ability to understand that others have mental states and perspectives that may be different from one’s own. Previous research has established a link between reading fiction and empathy (e.g., Fong et al., 2013). Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction is associated with higher scores on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (RMET; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), an ability task measuring Theory of Mind (Mar et al., 2006). A recent study by Tabullo and colleagues (2018) explored this relationship further. In a cross-cultural replication, the authors enlisted a Latin American sample of Spanish-speaking Argentinians to examine associations among fiction exposure, reading habits, trait empathy, and Theory of Mind. Participants self-reported their reading habits and empathy, and completed a series of tasks measuring their exposure to fiction and Theory of Mind ability.
Although past studies found a positive association between exposure to fiction and Theory of Mind, this group found this result replicated only for their male participants. Higher scores for the RMET (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), were associated with higher scores for fiction exposure, but only for males. For women, the opposite was observed. This sex difference has not been previously observed in past studies, and so this finding requires replication and further exploration. Unfortunately, one limitation OF this study is the relatively few male participants in the sample (n = 71; n = 137 females). Future studies should further investigate possible sex differences when examining the relation between reading fiction and Theory of Mind.


Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test revised version: a study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 42(2), 241-251.
Fong, K., Mullin, J. B., & Mar, R. A. (2013). What you read matters: The role of fiction genre in predicting interpersonal sensitivity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(4), 370–376. 
Tabullo, A. J., Jimenez, V. A. N., & Garcia, C. S. (2018). Associations between fiction reading, trait empathy, and theory of mind ability. International Journal of Psychology & Psychological Therapy, 18(3), 353-370.
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels:
Post by Valeria Hernandez
Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels:
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
 tjkeo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels: by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels:
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Friday 17 June 2022

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams


It’s hard to think of a more appropriate novel for OnFiction than The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. It’s about how readers can enter the hearts of novels, and novels can enter the hearts of readers.

One protagonist is Mukesh, an elderly, grief-stricken man whose wife, Naina, has recently died of cancer. A second is the disgruntled seventeen-year-old Aleisha, who has taken a summer job at the Harrow Road Library. This place is where near where both of them live, a bit beyond the North Circular Road in London, near Wembley Football Stadium.


The book starts with a prologue by Aidan. A few years before Aleisha, his sister, started her summer job, he was happy to escape into this same library and read for a little while. Once, beside him, was a big stack of books that prevented him seeing the person who sat next to him. But he observed the hand of this person writing. When this person left, the piece of paper with writing on it was left behind. Aidan looked at it. Here’s what it said in neat warm letters: 


Just in case you need it.

To Kill a Mockingbird


The Kite Runner

Life of Pi

Pride and Prejudice

Little Women


A Suitable Boy


One day, when Aleisha was working in the library, Mukesh arrived and tried to enter. He didn’t notice the button to press that opened the new doors. Aleisha saw him outside but didn’t help. When at last he did get in by following some other visitors, he asked her for a recommendation. She didn’t give one. She was even rather rude. 


Then clearing some books away, in a corner of the library where detective stories and crime fiction were shelved—a nice place with windows that overlook a park—she saw one of the regulars whom she thought of as “Crime Fiction Guy.”  He said he wanted to return a book: To Kill a Mockingbird. 


“Not my usual crime book,” he said. “But … I keep coming back to it … This book … you know … I’d recommend it.”


When Crime Thriller Guy left, she logged the book back in. On opening it, she found the very same reading list as her brother Aidan had found a while ago, with this book being first on the list. 


Feeling upset and guilty for having been horrible to Mukesh she went over to him “her heart pounding in her chest.” A book that everyone should read, she thought. She recommended it to Mukesh and thought of it as her olive branch.


Aidan and Aleisha take turns at staying at home to care for their difficult and occasionally impossible mother, who is only sometimes affectionate. Often she falls asleep in the day-time and, on some of these occasions, when she is at home, Aleisha who doesn’t much like books, reads To Kill a Mockingbird, which she has pinched from the library without checking it out. She becomes engaged in it and, as this happens, some of her troubles begin to fade away. Later, Mukesh arrives at the library and wants to borrow this very same book, the one that she had recommended.


In The Reading List’s Chapter 10, Mukesh and Aleisha in the library, thoughtfully discuss To Kill a Mockingbird, and talk with each other about how it has affected them.


As the chapters continue, Mukesh and Aleisha read and discuss the other books on the list, which was written on scraps of paper that keep turning up at unexpected times in peculiar places. As this novel continues, coming to each of the books, we read of the friendly discussions between Mukesh and Aleisha, and of how what they’d read offered insights and had positive effects on their discontented lives, that encouraged them to move forward. 


And a mystery: who was it who wrote the list of books found on scraps of paper here and there?


Coming to the end this review it’s a bit embarrassing to say that The Reading List is one of those books that can bring tears to the eyes.


PS. As a result of reading this novel, I read the second book on the list, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, which I hadn’t read before, and found that, like the others, it’s rather good.

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Wednesday 8 June 2022

"Night Nurse," short story by Keith Oatley

On Wednesday, just before midnight. Angela, a night nurse in a hospice, came to see Phillipa, who had cancer. 

After they’d talked a bit, Angela said, “Here, let me tuck you in. Comfortable?”


Latnext evening, Thursday, again a little before midnight, Angela came and saw that Philippa was still awake. She pulled a chair beside the bed and sat down to chat.

“What do you think it’s like, on the other side?” asked Philippa.

“I did a lot of wondering about that, too.”

“Good if it’s peaceful, calm.”


“I think I was OK as a mother, not so good as a wife”

“I read, recently,” said Angela, “about someone called the Venerable Bede, around the year 600. He told the story of a sparrow who flew through an opening into the great hall where everyone was eating, flew around a bit, did this and that, then found another opening, and flew out. Bede said that in the same way we appear on earth for a while. But we are like the sparrow. Of what happens before this life, or of what happens after it, we know nothing.”

“I like the idea of the sparrow,” said Philippa. “Fluttering about.”

“I do, too.”


“I didn’t know if you were awake,” said the day nurse. “I’m Wendy. Time for breakfast.”

“Sorry. I was dozing.”

“Are you OK? How did you sleep?”

“May I ask you something? Angela, the night nurse. Do you know her?” 

“Here’s coffee. Do you want apple juice, or orange, or cranberry?”

“She told me a story that I found strangely comforting.”

“She was a lovely person.”

“How d’you mean ‘was?’ What day is it?”


“She was here, with me, late last evening. Thursday.”

“I probably shouldn’t tell you. Angela had a terminal illness. She kept working right through Wednesday night. She had an adverse reaction to a new painkiller. She passed away on Thursday morning.”

Image from Wikipedia.

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Saturday 21 August 2021

Our Souls At Night

The idea of “schema” was central to Frederic Bartlett’s book of 1932, Remembering, where he described a series of experiments in which people were asked to read a story, or to look at a picture, and then reproduce it either immediately or later. Bartlett’s proposal was that remembering is an activity based not on anything like a photograph or recording, but on an understanding—schema—of how, in a way that is familiar to a person and within a society, one does certain kinds of actions like getting onto a train, or sitting down with others for a meal, plus an emotional attitude together with a rather small amount of detail. In Art and Illusion, Ernst Gombrich (1960) took this idea into an understanding of representational painting which, he said, is based on schema plus correction: for instance, a general idea of what a mountain, or a house, or a person might look like, together with a correction so that it becomes more specific or, in the case of some paintings, new and surprising. 


Kent Haruf’s novel of 2015, Our Souls at Night is also based on a schema: our idea of what it is for two people to have an affair. In the first chapter of the book, we are introduced to the novel’s protagonist, the elderly widow, Addie Moore, who lives in a small town in Colorado. She walks over to the house, one block away, of another elderly person: a widower, Louis Waters, whom she knows a little bit but not at all well.  Invited in, she tells him that she won’t stay long, then says that she is getting cold feet. She then says this.


wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me… I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.


The usual schema we might have of going to bed with someone, or having an affair, receives a correction. Addie says to Louis that she means what she says. “I’m not talking about sex" she says but "lying warm in bed, companionably.”


At first, Louis makes his visits late in the evening, when he is unlikely to be seen. Addie and he try to keep their arrangement secret. As they talk with each other about their marriages, their concerns, they find themselves becoming closer. One event which Addie recounted had been especially hard. Her five-year old daughter, Connie, had been playing in the back yard with her elder brother, Gene, and had run out into the street, had been hit by a car and died. The event had been devastating for Addie’s marriage and devastating for Gene. Addie became the target of both her husband’s and her son’s resentments.


Other people in the town start to notice Addie’s and Louis’s relationship and to talk about it; no longer a secret. The turning point of the novel occurs when Gene asks Addie to look after his young son, Jamie, for a while, because his wife has left him. Jamie is a rather neglected child, but Louis takes to him, looks after him as a parent might, buys him a dog, of which the boy becomes fond. 


What are your schemas for growing older, for families, for parental relationships, for affairs? 


What happens next in this novel? Do Addie and Louis get round to sex? What might Jamie think of what is going on? Maybe I should tell you. Maybe we should gossip. What do you think?


Frederic Bartlett (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge University Press.

Ernst Gombrich (1960). Art and illusion. Phaidon.

Kent Haruf (2015). Our souls at night. Knopf.






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Friday 7 May 2021

Klara and the future of humanity

In his latest novel, Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro reaches beyond what occurs in most fiction. This novel’s protagonist, Klara, is a robot. Whereas some people have wondered whether robots will, like humans, become selfish and try to take over the Earth, here the question is different. Klara is an AF: Artificial Friend. The question is of what it is to be human, what it is to be a friend, what it is to love someone. 


Klara looks like a human being, but she is powered by the rays of Sun, in which—or whom—she has a deeply religious belief. The person to whom Klara becomes a friend, is Josie, a teenager who lives with her Mother. After her morning cup of coffee Mother (capital M) goes off to work each day, leaving Josie with her Artificial Friend. Klara is intelligent, very observant (a pleasure of this novel is reading Klara’s patterns of thought) and comes to love her, to know her as if from the inside. In the first part of the novel, Josie seems to manage alright, but she then becomes more and more sick. 


Among the humans who appear as characters in this story, one of the questions is which ones have been “lifted.” We don’t come across that concept until well into the book (page 70 on my Kindle version). We are never told, here, what “lifted” means. My inference is that it means that, when they were children, some of the human characters have been genetically engineered to raise their intelligence. This predisposes some of them to look down on others who have not received this modification. But perhaps their piece of genetic engineering also makes some of them more vulnerable, liable to become sick.


So, alongside the issue of whether robots, made on the basis of artificial intelligence, will accompany human beings on this planet—and with what motives—there comes a newer question. It is that of whether we humans can have our own abilities supplemented by means of receiving genetic changes. A biography and discussion of this issue has also come out this year. By Walter Isaacson, it’s called The Code Breaker: Jennifer Daudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human RaceDaudna, the protagonist of this story, is the principal pioneer of genetic engineering.


A central theme in Klara and the Sun, is whether, perhaps, if Josie dies, a physical model that is being made of her by a man who is a sort of portrait-sculptor, might be inhabited by Klara. The idea is that then, with the very extensive understanding of her that Klara has acquired, the processing parts of the Artificial Friend might be inserted into this physical model so that she might reproduce Josie’s movements, her facial expressions, her thoughts, and her words. In this way perhaps other people might not be able to tell the difference between this artificial Josie and the one who might die. All other people? Including her Mother? Or would something necessarily be left out? And if so what might that be?


Kazuo Ishiguro (2021). Klara and the Sun. Toronto: Knopf.   


Walter Isaacson (2021). The code breaker: Jennifer Doudna, gene editing, and the future of the human race. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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Monday 8 February 2021

Engagement in Reading

Birte Thissen, with colleagues Winfried Menninghaus (Director of the Department of Language and Literature at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, in Frankfurt, Germany), and Wolff Schlotz, have recently published an article which brings together Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s concept of flow and the activity of reading fiction. 


Flow is full engagement in what one is doing. Csikszentmihalyi illustrated this by depicting Rico Medelin who worked in a factory that made movie projectors. His job was on an assembly line and, as each part-made projector came along, the operation he had to do was supposed to take 43 seconds. He had to do this 600 times a day, and he’d been in this job for five years. Many of us would not have been able to do this for so long, but Rico had analyzed the task, and thought about it; worked out how to use his tools and perform his task better and more quickly so that, in his best average over a day, he had completed each task for each unit in two thirds of the time required. "It is better than anything else," said Rico. "It's better than watching TV” (p. 39-40). Another person who was interviewed was a 62 year old woman who enjoyed tending her cows and orchard. "I find a special satisfaction in caring for the plants," she said. "I like to see them grow each day" (p. 55). A mother said about reading with her young daughter: "She reads to me, and I read to her, and that's a time when I sort of lose touch with the rest of the world. I'm totally absorbed in what I'm doing" (p. 53).


In this state of flow, which Csikszentmihalyi also calls "optimal experience," a person has a sense of purpose and creativity, so that the self and the activity merge. It’s not a matter of waiting for something pleasant to come along, but of setting yourself goals, analyzing and solving problems, creating an activity that is meaningful. 


In their study, Thissen, Menninghaus and Schlotz asked whether this idea applied to the reading of fiction. They had 373 people, between 18 and 81 years of age, recruited from an online survey in two large bookstores, read a German translation of Homer’s “Scylla and Charybdis,” Chapter 12 of Odysseus. They found that the experience of flow, as measured by a newly created 27-item scale, was a significant predictor of a feeling of presence in the story world, of identification with the protagonist, of enjoyment of reading, and of comprehension of the story. Here’s how the authors end the abstract of their paper.


Although, to date, the concept of flow has played only a minor role in research on fiction reading, our results suggest that it deserves being integrated into future theoretical frameworks and empirical investigations of positive reading experiences.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.


Homer (762 BCE). The Odyssey. Harmondsworth: Penguin (current edition 1946).


Thissen, B. A. K., Menninghaus, W., & Schlotz, W. (2020). The pleasures of reading fiction explained by flow, presence, identification, suspense, and cognitive involvement. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Advanced online publication, November doi:10.1037/aca0000367

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