Wednesday 15 February 2023

Research Bulletin: Are Meaningful Narratives More Likely to Promote Social Cognition?

Although a great deal of research has examined whether stories help to promote social cognition, most of this work has been on adults and not delved much into different types of stories. Hannah N. M. De Mulder and colleagues (2022) took it upon themselves to examine this question in adolescents, with a focus on comparing different modalities of presentation (i.e., books, television, film), and hedonic narratives to eudaimonic ones. Eudaimonic narratives prompt audiences to consider deep truths about the world, conveying a sense of meaning and often eliciting experiences of “being moved” by the story (Oliver & Raney, 2011). In contrast, hedonic narratives are focused on providing pleasure for audiences, such as positive emotions and excitement. The researchers asked 126 children aged 8 to 16 how often they read books (or watched television/film) that was hedonic or eudaimonic in nature, and also measured their social abilities in three different ways (self-report, emotion recognition, and the ability to infer mental states). Using a Bayesian approach to analyzing their data, they evaluated whether the data was more or less consistent with several different possibilities. In this population of adolescents, they found little consistent evidence that books, TV, and film predict better social abilities. However, they did observe that exposure to meaningful narratives was associated with better social skills, in particular for television and film. This work highlights the importance of studying a variety of populations, and types of media, when researching the relation between stories and social cognition.


De Mulder, H. N. M., Hakemulder, F., Klaassen, F., Junge, C. M. M., Hoijtink, H., & van Berkum, J. J. A. (2022). Figuring Out What They Feel: Exposure to eudaimonic narrative Fiction is related to mentalizing ability. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 16, 242–258.

Oliver, M. B., & Raney, A. A. (2011). Entertainment as pleasurable and meaningful: Identifying hedonic and eudaimonic motivations for entertainment consumption. Journal of Communication, 61, 984–1004.

Post by Raymond Mar
* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels
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