Jessica Black and Dr. Jennifer Barnes (University of Oklahoma) decided to examine whether exposing people to award-winning television shows could prompt people to be more accurate at guessing what others are feeling. In their first study, people watched either a TV episode from a narrative fiction series (Mad Men or The West Wing), or as a control condition, and episode from a documentary TV series (Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back or How the Universe Works). Afterwards, both groups completed a measure of their mental inferencing abilities. What they found was that those who watched a piece of fiction exhibited better mental-inferencing abilities than those randomly assigned to watch the documentary TV episode. This was true even after controlling for gender and past reading habits. A second study replicated these results using different a different set of TV shows (Lost and The Good Wife for fiction, versus Through the Wormhole: Is Time Travel Possible? and NOVA: Colosseum: Roman Death Trap). These results provide a fascinating extension of work on how engagement with narrative fiction, in all its forms, might promote thinking about other people and their mental states.
* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).
Black, J. & Barnes, J. L. (in press). Fiction and social cognition: The effect of viewing award-winning television dramas on theory-of-mind. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and
Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342, 377–380.
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