Monday 17 September 2012

Research Bulletin: The Puzzle of Fiction

We have often discussed the idea of “transportation” in OnFiction, which refers to our tendency to become deeply immersed into the world of a particular story. Richard Gerrig (1993) invoked this metaphor to describe how our encounters with fiction lead us to be transported from the here-and-now into the world of the narrative, where the events and characters influence us much like events and peers in our real life. Transportation has become an essential concept in the world of fiction research, with the focus of many now turning to how this idea can better be measured and understood. Some have begun to look into whether some people are more likely to become transported into a piece of fiction than others. We all know people who are heavily influenced by whatever they happen to be reading or watching, crying at the drop of a hat. On the other hand, there are those who seem to have no difficulty withdrawing from a narrative world, seemingly unfazed by sad films and scary books. One interesting avenue of work has found that those who are intrigued by puzzles and enjoy complicated problem-solving--a trait known as “need for cognition”--are also more likely to be deeply engaged with a story. This has been demonstrated to be true for written texts in at least two different studies (Green et al., 2008; Appel & Richter, 2010). And recently, in the forthcoming issue of the Scientific Study of Literature, it has also been shown to be the case for film (specifically, the film Memento, Owen & Riggs, 2012). In other words, the complexities of a narrative appear to be just another puzzle that some people enjoy unlocking. 

Appel, M., & Richter, T. (2010). Transportation and need for aff ct in narrative persuasion: A mediated moderation model. Media Psychology, 13, 101–135.

Gerrig, R. J.  (1993).  Experiencing narrative worlds.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

Green, M. C., Kass, S., Carrey, J., Herzig, B., Feeney, R., & Sabini, J. (2008). Transportation across media: Repeated exposure to print and film. Media Psychology, 11, 512–539.

Owen, B. & Riggs, M. (2012). Transportation, need for cognition, and affective disposition as factors in enjoyment of film narratives. Scientific Study of Literature, 2, 128–150.

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JW Ashley said...

What an interesting and evocative phrase: "need for cognition." Makes me wonder, can one develop this need? Or is it an innate trait? I have long argues that reading is important part of developing empathy (as reading allows a reader to exchange his POV for another's). Can we encourage a need for cognition and, thereby, encourage greater empathy in larger numbers?

Raymond A. Mar said...

Thanks for this interesting comment, JW Ashley. Researchers conceive of 'need for cognition' as innate trait related to an in-born curiosity. That said, there are likely lots of routes by which people come to appreciate and enjoy fiction, 'need for cognition' being just one of them.

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