Wednesday 25 February 2009

Confronting Our Making of Fictions

Fibbing. We recognize the tenuous boundary between the real and the fictional in children's narratives, and chide them to understand the difference: “are you fibbing?” adults ask when they want to verify a child's story, or point to the questionable moral nature of bending the truth.

Fibbing – making fictions, or fictionalizing pieces of "real" life – is a crucial part of the way that children piece together the world. The process fills in gaps in knowledge (think fanciful explanations for the origins or causal relationships of things), and this process clearly remains important for adults. But how do we manage the relationship between truths and fictions as our adult explanations for things become more complex?

As a researcher, I often wonder when interviewing people whether or how much they are aware of the complex interweavings that take place between what might be considered verifiable observations and the inventions they add on to their interpretations of these observations. Analyzing this relationship is part of the interpretive tradition, but I am increasingly interested in the manners in which people come to terms with their fictionalizations and with the ways that these assist them in navigating the unknown and irreconcilable features of their everyday lives.

For example, how much does the explicit appearance of a blatant fiction, which we can recognize with the label, "oh, I made that up," (or perhaps more likely, "did I make up that detail of the story she told me when I retold it?") point to an area of my life where extra creative effort is spilling over in an effort to figure out something unresolved? Or in contrast, how much are we inured to our own creative interpretation so that we might assert our fictions with that childlike confidence of certain explanation.

Psychoanalysts, I suspect, have long worked with inquiry along this axis of implictness or explicitness of the making of fiction. Further understanding would be quite useful, as it might facilitate the turning of attention to areas requiring fictionalization and perhaps suggest some additional ways to organize creative exploration in these areas.

Do others know of research published on this question?

1 comment:

Keith Oatley said...

Thank you very much Valentine for this; the border between fibbing and fiction is often referred to but not usually analyzed in the interesting way that you have embarked on. I merely want to say that there is a research literature on the relation of lying to theory-of-mind. An early piece of research on the issue was by Joan Peskin, who has also contributed to our blog on November 7 2008, with a post on Expertise in Reading.

In Joan's (1992) study she found that most three-year-olds were not good at realizing that if another child always chose something for which they had previously expressed a preference, they (the protagonists) might act not just physically to try and prevent the other child taking what they wanted, but act on the competitor's mind, for instance by withholding information. The children's abilities in this regard were the same whether they were trying to obtain the desired object themselves, or saying what a character would do in a story. The connection that struck me, from your post, was between the notion of fibbing and the issue of otherness that you have discussed in your recent posts. Theory-of-mind involves the insertion of the other into our mental world, usually around the age of four. Perhaps only at this moment in development do possibilities arise of imagining alternative worlds; they arise in relation to the other.

Joan Peskin (1992). Ruse and representations: On children's ability to conceal information. Developmental Psychology, 28, 84-89.

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