The cognitive science of fiction
Article first published online: 3 MAY 2012
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Volume 3, Issue 4, pages 425–430, July/August 2012
How to Cite
Oatley, K. (2012), The cognitive science of fiction. WIREs Cogn Sci, 3: 425–430. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1185
- Issue published online: 11 JUN 2012
- Article first published online: 3 MAY 2012
Fiction might be dismissed as observations that lack reliability and validity, but this would be a misunderstanding. Works of fiction are simulations that run on minds. They were the first kinds of simulation. All art has a metaphorical quality: a painting can be both pigments on canvas and a person. In literary art, this quality extends to readers who can be both themselves and, by empathetic processes within a simulation, also literary characters. On the basis of this hypothesis, it was found that the more fiction people read the better were their skills of empathy and theory-of-mind; the inference from several studies is that reading fiction improves social skills. In functional magnetic resonance imaging meta-analyses, brain areas concerned with understanding narrative stories were found to overlap with those concerned with theory-of-mind. In an orthogonal effect, reading artistic literature was found to enable people to change their personality by small increments, not by a writer's persuasion, but in their own way. This effect was due to artistic merit of a text, irrespective of whether it was fiction or non-fiction. An empirically based conception of literary art might be carefully constructed verbal material that enables self-directed personal change. WIREs Cogn Sci 2012, 3:425–430. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1185
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