Research evidence supports the claim that engagement with works of fiction may benefit readers’ social cognitive abilities of empathy and theory of mind. However, there is little direct evidence to support claims about the causal mechanisms underlying the positive influence of leisure reading. Simulation theory has emerged as the most common explanatory mechanism. We summarize simulation theory and indicate ways in which the theory requires a more concrete instantiation. To provide a contrast to simulation theory, we offer three accounts of the origins of the emotional content of readers’ narrative experiences. Our goal is to highlight the diversity of processes that contribute to readers’ affective responses. Finally, we consider how ordinary processes of learning and memory might explain changes in readers’ social cognition.
How Does Leisure Reading Affect Social Cognitive Abilities?
Micah L. Mumper researches theoretical issues in psycholinguistics, with an emphasis on the interaction between readers’ life experiences and their narrative experiences. His publications include “On the Origins of Readers’ Outcome Preferences” with Richard Gerrig and Kelsey Bagelmann (2016), “How Readers’ Lives Affect Narrative Experiences” with Richard Gerrig (2016), and “Leisure Reading and Social Cognition: A Meta-Analysis,” with Richard Gerrig (2017). A recent graduate of the doctoral program in cognitive science at Stony Brook University, Mumper brings a fresh perspective and new empirical evidence to the role of ordinary memory processes in emotional inferences in his dissertation.
Richard J. Gerrig is professor of psychology at Stony Brook University. His research focuses on audience design in language use as well as people’s experiences of narrative worlds. He is the author of Experiencing Narrative Worlds (1993), which draws on several disciplinary traditions to explore the processes by which people are transported to narrative worlds and the consequences of that transportation. With his students, he has developed the participatory perspective on narrative experiences. He has published research demonstrating how participation explains both general and person-specific aspects of readers’ experiences.
Micah L. Mumper, Richard J. Gerrig; How Does Leisure Reading Affect Social Cognitive Abilities?. Poetics Today 1 September 2019; 40 (3): 453–473. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558080
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