Research that suggests the primacy of the emotions provides the context for a study of some of the processes sustained by the emotions during literary reading. In particular, the early processing of emotion in response to language, including narrative, is shown by several ERP (evoked-response potentials) studies that focus on the first 500 msecs of response. These studies suggest the possibility that emotion plays a key role in subsequent cognitive processing, including the making of inferences, invoking the reader's memory, or relating empathically to a character. Emotions evoked in these ways during literary reading embody a number of distinctive processes, and some of their implications are then examined here. These include self-reference (e.g., autobiographical memory), which may occur more often in response to literary than to other texts; anticipation (e.g., suspense, forming goals for characters), which also seems more frequent among literary readers; an inherent narrativity of emotions that prompts us to construe situations in narrative terms; a capacity of emotion to integrate experiences, whether through similarities across conventional boundaries or through a process in which one emotion modifies another; and a tendency to animism, the interpretation of objects and events through human emotions, especially in the early phases of response, prior to consciousness.
Skip Nav Destination
David S. Miall; Emotions and the Structuring of Narrative Responses. Poetics Today 1 June 2011; 32 (2): 323–348. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1162704
Download citation file: