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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