Workshop: Narratives and Social Cognition

It is commonly thought that engaging with narratives can shape the way we engage with the real world. But how? This workshop aims to connect psychological and philosophical research on the mechanisms that enable narratives to shape our social cognition. Looking at the broader context, the workshop will also examine questions such as how such mechanisms can be discovered and whether they are unique to fictional narratives.

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
10:00am (Welcome)
10:05am Katherine Allen [early career speaker]
11:00am Stacie Friend
12:15pm Raymond Mar
01:15pm (End)

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
29-31 Clarendon Place
Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT

The workshop is free and open to all. Please register using this form to help our event planning. (See also the public event on the night before!)

Raymond Mar (psychology, York University)

“The Possible Impacts of Imagining the Self in Narrative Worlds”
We frequently entertain ourselves by consuming narrative fiction in various forms, such as films, television shows, and books. There is growing evidence, however, that these experiences may affect us in ways other than providing entertainment. Engaging with stories appears to involve a mental simulation of social experience, driven by the events depicted in the narrative. This raises the possibility that these imagined social experiences may influence social processes along with how we view the social world. I will present empirical research pertaining to the correlates and outcomes associated with engaging with narrative fiction, with respect to both socioemotional processes and broader social attitudes.

Stacie Friend (philosophy, Heythrop College)

“Fact, Fiction, and Psychological Insight”
Many philosophers, critics, and ordinary readers agree that great literature can provide psychological insights, often profound ones that cannot be obtained in any other way. Gregory Currie has argued, by contrast, that recent results in psychology cast doubt on the ability of authors of fiction to capture what is really going on in people’s minds. I neither defend nor deny this sceptical stance. Instead, I argue for two claims relevant to evaluating it: (i) that if fictional literature can provide psychological insight, so too can non-fictional literature; and (ii) in either case, the possibility of psychological insight turns on the factual accuracy of the psychological depictions in the work.

Katherine Allen (independent scholar)

“Sweet Influence: Defending a Cautious Aesthetic Cognitivism”
Theorists such as Gregory Currie, Scott Stroud, Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley have proposed that fictions can enhance social cognition, transmit social information and generate moral and psychological insights. Fictions are cognitively valuable insofar as they entice us to occupy novel perspectives, facilitating unusually extended and richly-detailed simulations regarding characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, and act as a source of subjective knowledge, affording readers a sense of “what it is like” to undergo depicted experiences. Such theories necessarily imply that our affective and cognitive responses to fictions are, broadly speaking, accuracy-sensitive; in the absence of such a presupposition, fiction’s power to persuade seems sinister rather than salutary.

I will argue that there is reason to suspect that our readerly intuitions/pretheoretical judgements about a fiction’s plausibility and “lifelikeness” are unlikely to act as a reliable marker of a work’s psychological accuracy. Rather, I will argue that fictions, like other texts, work to contribute to our knowledge of the world and its inhabitants cumulatively and collaboratively: while intuitions can misfire, and our cognitive and affective responses to any individual fiction remain fallible, fictions enjoy an interpretive “afterlife” during which we continue to reflect on their contents and assimilate any insights they engendered. It is within this post-engagement period, during which we can investigate, substantiate and integrate a fiction’s “claims” within a broader conceptual schema, that the primary experience of engaging with a fiction can give rise to knowledge.

This event is a part of the Experimental Philosophical Aesthetics and Human Nature project workshops, supported by Marie Curie Action Grant PIIF-GA-2012-328977.