Although personal relevance is key to sustaining an audience’s interest in any given narrative, it has received little systematic attention in scholarship to date. Across centuries and media, adaptations have been used extensively to bring temporally or geographically distant narratives “closer” to the recipient under the assumption that their impact will increase. In this article, we review experimental and other empirical evidence on narrative processing in order to unravel which types of personal relevance are more likely to be impactful than others, which types of impact (e.g., aesthetic, therapeutic, persuasive) they have been found to generate, and where their power becomes excessive or outright detrimental to reader experience. Together, the evidence suggests that narratives are read through the lens of the reader’s self-schema independently of genre, although certain groups of readers, especially in certain situations, may experience personal relevance and related effects more strongly than others. The literature further suggests that large-scale similarities between reader and character (e.g., gender) may not per se be enough for relevance effects to arise and that emotional valence has a role to play in the process alongside thematic saliency.

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