Universiteit Leiden

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Figuring out what they feel: The role of narrative fiction in understanding others’ mental states

Tuesday 24 April 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


“On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide—it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese—the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.” (Eugenides 1993, The Virgin Suicides)

The quote above is the first sentence of Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides, and we are immediately sucked in: who is Mary, who is Therese and why did they commit suicide? This example illustrates a hallmark of narrative fiction: it is about autonomous intentional agents and their (inter)actions and in order to make sense of it, we must engage in advanced social-cognitive processing. In this way, exposure to narrative fiction provides us with social-cognitive training and thus can potentially be used as a tool to hone our abilities in this domain. In this talk, I will discuss various research projects that consider effects of exposure to different types of narrative fiction on the social-cognitive abilities of both adults and children.

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