A new article has been added to our archive of academic papers. Recently published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, this paper by Mar and Oatley proposes a theory of the function of fiction. This is a good overview of the current empirical research on literary fiction, and provides a nice summary of our current theoretical position. The abstract appears below.
Fiction literature has largely been ignored by psychology researchers because its only function seems to be that of entertainment, with no connection to empirical validity. We argue that literary narratives have a more important purpose. They offer models, or simulations, of the social world via abstraction, simplification, and compression. Narrative fiction also involves simulation in that readers enter a deep and immersive simulative experience of social interactions. Together these two forms of simulation make the communication and understanding of social information easier and more compelling, achieving a form of learning through experience. Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves, and augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.