Literary reading has the capacity to implicate the self and deepen self-understanding, but little is known about how and when these effects occur. The present article examines two forms of self-implication in literary reading. In one form, which functions like simile, there is explicitly recognized similarity between personal memories and some aspect of the world of the text (A is like B). In another form, which functions like metaphor, the reader becomes identified with some aspect of the world of the text, usually the narrator or a character (A is B). These forms of self-implication can be differentiated within readers' open-ended comments about their reading experiences. The results of a phenomenological study indicate that such metaphors of personal identification are a pivotal feature of expressive enactment, a type of reading experience marked by (1) explicit descriptions of feelings in response to situations and events in the text, (2) blurred boundaries between oneself and the narrator of the text, and (3) active and iterative modification of an emergent affective theme. The self-modifying feelings characteristic of expressive enactment give it a fugal form, manifest as thematic developments that move toward saturation, richness, and depth. The results of an experimental study suggest that expressive enactment occurs frequently among individuals who remain depressed about a significant loss that occurred some time ago. Together with the phenomenological study, this research suggests that expressive enactment is a form of reading that penetrates and alters a reader's understanding of everyday life, especially following a personal crisis.
The aim of this study is to investigate how reading experiences intertwine fiction and life and how such experiences change over time. Twelve reading autobiographies of young, motivated readers (age range twenty-two to thirty-two; six men, six women) were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. The theoretical framework that served as the point of departure for the content categories was a model of identification in which different types of wish identification, similarity identification, dissimilarity, and empathy were distinguished. Other content categories were derived from different objects of identification and from different kinds of cognitive and emotional effects. Three major results are presented and discussed. One outcome was the difference in autobiographical style between the two earliest periods of life (childhood and adolescence) and the last, most recent period (young adulthood). The readers described their reading experiences in the latter period in a more general and abstract way, whereas the earlier memories had a more "recollective" character. We discuss this finding in relation to general knowledge and theories about autobiographical memory. The second result was a difference in reported reading behavior and reading experience between female and male readers. Male readers tended to a certain favorite genre, such as, for example, science fiction, or to a favorite author throughout their lives, whereas female readers wrote more about their changing ways of reading. Also, the female readers reported more than twice as many identification experiences. In a third finding, we observed a developmental pattern in identification: the transition from childhood to puberty and adolescence manifested a shift from wish to similarity identification. This pattern matches earlier studies about the development of readers and can be understood in relation to general developmental characteristics. However, together with some additional observations about parallel shifts in the objects of identification from characters and events to abstract themes, a more detailed and complete picture of the changing functions of reading fiction can be drawn.
The article presents some selected results from our multimethod study "Lesesozialisation im Erwachsenenalter: Strategien literarischen Lesens in ihrer Bedeutung für Alltagsbewältigung und Biographie" [Reading socialization of the adult: Strategies of literary reading and their meaning in terms of coping with daily life and in terms of a person's biography]. In the first, ethnographic part of this study, six volunteer readers (who had spontaneously purchased a recently published novel) observed their own reading practices. The subjects were interviewed before, during, and after reading the novel. On the basis of these interviews, a great number of strategies for dealing with a literary text emerged. Most of these strategies appeared to be polyfunctional; nevertheless, certain techniques proved to be better than others for attaining specific goals. Different readers in different situations thus preferred different reading strategies. In the second part of our study, we conducted interviews with a representative sample of 1,025 experienced German novel readers and asked about their reading habits in general—not limited to the specific novel of part one. It emerged that female and male readers as well as readers with different sociocultural backgrounds (in Pierre Bourdieu's sense) preferred different reading strategies.
Most psychological researchers now accept the premise that literary narratives have an effect on people's everyday lives. Contemporary research examines the types of psychological processes that give rise to literary impact. The article describes experiments in two broad areas. First, it supports a position called the willing construction of disbelief and relates that to readers' feelings of having been transported to narrative worlds. The data suggest that readers must expend strategic effort to reject the information they acquire from literary narratives. Second, the article discusses the ways in which the unfolding of causes and consequences in literary narratives affect readers' judgments and understanding of characters and outcomes. These experiments support the claim that readers may derive bodies of evidence from their literary experiences that they apply to their own life experiences.
Spielberg, Steven, 1946-, dir. Jaws (Motion picture)
Spielberg, Steven, 1946-, dir. Poltergeist (Motion picture)
Myrick, Daniel, dir. Blair Witch Project (Motion picture)
Sánchez, Eduardo, dir.
Craven, Wes, dir. Scream (Motion picture)
To explore lingering effects of frightening media, 530 papers written by students over a three-year period (1997–2000) were reviewed. The students could write about their own fright reactions or about a response they had witnessed in another person. Almost all students (93 percent) wrote about their own experiences, and the overwhelming majority (91 percent) described reactions to realistic fiction or fantasy content (depicting impossible events) rather than to the news or a documentary. The ninety-one papers about the four presentations cited most frequently—Jaws, Poltergeist, The Blair Witch Project, and Scream—were content analyzed. Of the papers, 46 percent reported an effect on bedtime behavior (e.g., sleep disturbances) and 75 percent reported effects on waking life (e.g., anxiety in related situations). Among the prominent effects on waking life were difficulty swimming after Jaws (in lakes and pools as well as the ocean); uneasiness around clowns, televisions, and trees after Poltergeist; avoidance of camping and the woods following The Blair Witch Project; and anxiety when home alone after Scream. More than one-third of the papers reported effects continuing to the time of the study. These consequences attest to the enduring power of emotional memory even when the viewer is aware that the response is to a large extent irrational. Possible reasons for these lingering effects are discussed.
Myrick, Daniel, dir. Blair Witch Project (Motion picture)
Sánchez, Eduardo, dir.
Horror films -- Psychological aspects.
This article is concerned with how recipients evaluate the reality status of media products, how they distinguish and how they interrelate elements of "fact" and "fiction." On the basis of an overview of recent theories of fictionality, an approach comprising three independent perspectives for evaluating the reality status of media products is proposed: a pragmatic perspective concerning the product type ("fact," "fiction," and "hybrids"), a semantic perspective concerning product content (degrees of plausibility), and a perspective of mode referring to the (perceived) realism of the product (formal features and their effects on degree of involvement). Under all three perspectives, a media product will usually contain cues that orient the recipient toward ontic status, plausibility of content, and so forth. This model is then applied to a media product transcending the traditional boundaries between "fact" and "fiction," the pseudodocumentary horror film The Blair Witch Project and its reception. To study the reception, a random sample of e-mails from Internet newsgroup discussions of the film is subjected to content analysis. A first analysis shows that among those e-mails written within six months after the release of the film, 38 percent refer to questions concerning its reality status. A second analysis explores the perspectives from which this reality status is discussed and whether the recipients regard the film as fiction or as nonfiction. While most discussants correctly identify it as fiction, almost 40 percent are at least temporarily uncertain as to the product type. To substantiate their perceptions of or their doubts concerning the film's ontic status, both recipients that consider it to be fiction and recipients who are uncertain frequently refer to information gathered from other media. By comparison, cues that permit the unambiguous identification of the film as fiction (impossible content elements, disclaimer as part of the credits) are only rarely given as reasons. These results show that novel, unfamiliar hybrid genres have the potential to confuse recipients and thus temporarily provide a way for "fiction" to enter "life."
Reading groups provide a fruitful site for examining women's uses of literature in life, since discussing books with other women gives rise to insights that come with sharing perspectives on both literature and participants' lives. This research focuses on white women's reading groups in both nineteenth- and twentieth-century Houston, Texas. Nineteenth-century groups found in their literary and associational practices the warrant to embark on a broad program of collective action; twentieth-century groups, by and large, severed this link yet still met important needs for women, such as providing the occasion for reflective normative discussions. Comparing the continuities and disjunctures between women's reading groups over time demonstrates that broad social and cultural "frames" (to use Erving Goffman's  term) strongly influence how literature enters our individual and collective lives.
Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832. Heart of Midlothian.
Psychology and literature.
Books and reading.
Literature and society.
This article seeks to contribute to contemporary discussions on the workings of cultural memory and examines in particular the way in which literary texts can function as a social framework for memory. Through a detailed study of the genesis, composition, and long-term reception of Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian (1982 ), I argue that literary texts play a variety of roles in the formation of cultural memory and that these roles are linked to their status as public discourse, to their fictional and poetical qualities, and to their longevity. This analysis of the multiple roles of literary texts in what I call "memorial dynamics" sheds light on the complex communicative processes by which images of the past are formed and transformed over time. It indicates the need to consider discontinuity as a feature of memorial dynamics and to recognize, for better or for worse, that fictionality and poeticity are an integral and not merely "inauthentic" feature of cultural memory.