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Simulated Social Worlds: The Effects of Fiction on Theory of Mind

Sepulveda Maldonado, Jose Andres (2019) Simulated Social Worlds: The Effects of Fiction on Theory of Mind. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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2019.10.18 Simulated Social Worlds. Fiction and Theory of Mind [FINAL].pdf
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One of the greatest human features is the ability to estimate what others are thinking and feeling, and being able to respond to those estimations accordingly. It allows parents to know when their child is feeling happy, lovers to know when they are being reciprocated, and teachers to know when they have inspired their students. It is no wonder then that recent studies have started exploring ways in which these skills can be fostered. In this regard, a promising line of research shows that reading high quality fiction can boost these abilities, but are these effects unique to written literature? This thesis proposes that these effects may also be found when fiction is presented through video games and virtual reality films. To test this proposal, one correlational and two experimental studies were conducted. Study 1 shows that lifelong exposure to fiction in the form of written fiction and video games, without distinctions of quality and content, is not associated with the ability to infer accurately others’ cognitions and emotions and only partially with being able to experience them oneself after inferring them. Study 2 shows no differences in people’s ability to infer others’ experience when comparing participants who read high quality short stories, who played high quality narrative video games, or that played puzzle video games. Study 3 shows that reading high quality short stories, high quality narrative video games, and watching high quality virtual reality films boosts peoples’ ability to infer others’ experience. Overall, the central conclusion of this thesis is that the ability to infer others’ cognitions and emotions can be boosted for brief periods of time after being exposed to fiction in the form of literary fiction, narrative video games and virtual reality films. These boosts occurred in response to high quality fiction depicting social interactions which suggests that high quality and social contents may be necessary preconditions for these effects to occur. Nevertheless, further research is suggested in order to explore if these effects are exclusive to high-quality fiction depicting social interactions, or they can be found in a wider range of fictional content and quality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Science (Sheffield) > Psychology (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Jose Andres Sepulveda Maldonado
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2019 11:42
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2019 11:42
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25166

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