The concept of adaptive affective cognition is developed to explain the affective impact of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son on the judicial reasoning of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case of 1954. Although research in neuroscience clearly argues that affect contributes decisively to reason, few essays examine the processes, particularity, and significance of this contribution to literary experience. The authors use historical evidence to argue that the affective impact of Native Son reorganized cognitive practices authorized by segregation. Adaptive affective cognition explains the paradox of how Native Son, while triggering racist fears with the image of the violent, angry black man, also paradoxically reduced those fears.
Adaptive Affective Cognition in Literature and Its Impact on Legal Reason and Social Practice
Marshall Alcorn is professor of English and chair of the English department at George Washington University. He is the author of Changing the Subject in English Class (2002) and Resistance to Learning (2013). His research interests are neuroscience, affect, and trauma studies.
Michael O’Neill is a lawyer specializing in constitutional law and is presently writing a book about the effect of critical American literary texts on the quest for legal equality. His research interests are in neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and law and literary studies.
Marshall Alcorn, Michael O’Neill; Adaptive Affective Cognition in Literature and Its Impact on Legal Reason and Social Practice. Poetics Today 1 September 2019; 40 (3): 499–518. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558108
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