Stories and Their Role in Social Cognition

Jessica E. Black, Jennifer L. Barnes, Keith Oatley, Diana I. Tamir, David Dodell-Feder, Tobias Richter, Raymond A. Mar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

10 Scopus citations


Fiction - when it is listened to, or when it appears in print, film, and video games - introduces people not only to storyworlds, but also to characters, their relationships, and complex social interactions. A growing body of research suggests that people who listen to, read, or watch fiction may learn social skills from stories through various mechanisms, including identifying with and forming parasocial relationships with characters, and simulating the social experiences depicted in the story. This chapter begins by reviewing theories that explain the potential effects of engaging with fiction and the possible mechanisms through which these effects might manifest. We then describe the methods used to investigate the effects of fiction and present a brief overview of both correlational and experimental findings. This overview indicates that there is robust evidence of an association between lifetime exposure to fiction and social cognition, but results from experimental studies have been mixed. Finally, we identify the most important gaps in the current research and propose directions for future research. Despite recent efforts to test the effects of manipulating engagement with fiction on a limited range of social cognitive abilities, many aspects of social cognition have yet to be explored, and there is a clear need for longitudinal intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Empirical Literary Studies
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783110645958
ISBN (Print)9783110626582
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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