Professor Stephen Briner

Participation Type


College and Major available



University Commons

Start Day/Time

4-20-2018 1:00 PM

End Day/Time

4-20-2018 3:00 PM


Apr 20th, 1:00 PM Apr 20th, 3:00 PM

How Does Reading Fiction Improve Theory of Mind?

University Commons

How does reading about fictional characters influence the way we view people in the everyday world? Recent research (Kidd & Castano, 2013) suggests that reading “literary” fiction improves a reader’s ability to understand other people, as measured by a test of Theory of Mind (ToM). However, reading “pop” fiction does not improve ToM. This finding has been difficult to replicate with other works of literature or pop fiction. Perhaps some feature in the text besides “literariness” drives changes in ToM?

In our study, we explored two questions: 1) Do reading preferences interact with the type of story presented? and 2) What features of the text influence ToM scores? Participants read a “pop” story or a “literature” story taken from Kidd & Castano (2013). Participants then took the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), a test of Theory of Mind, then indicated whether they enjoyed reading less than, as much as, or more than their peers. ToM scores were higher in the literature condition than the pop condition. But in the literature condition, this effect was larger for those who liked reading less than their peers, suggesting that the impact of fiction on ToM might be greatest for those who have less exposure to fiction. We did not find a similar effect in the pop condition. We also found that the literary story required more emotional inferences than the pop story, which suggests that needing to make inferences about characters’ emotions might translate to higher ToM scores.


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