skip to main content

Title: Fact or fiction?: Clarifying the relationship between reading and the improvement of social skills
Abstract Many studies have claimed to find that reading fiction leads to improvements in social cognition. But this work has left open the critical question of whether any type of narrative, fictional or nonfictional, might have similar effects. To address this question, as well as to test whether framing a narrative as fiction matters, the current studies presented participants ( N  = 268 in Study 1; N  = 362 in Study 2) with literary fiction texts, narrative nonfiction texts, expository nonfiction texts, or no texts. We tested their theory-of-mind abilities using the picture-based Reading the Mind in the Eyes task and a text-based test of higher-order social cognition. Reading anything was associated with higher scores compared to reading nothing, but the effects of framing and text type were inconsistent. These results suggest that prior claims regarding positive effects of reading fiction on mentalizing should be seen as tenuous; other mechanisms may be driving previously published effects.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Scientific Study of Literature
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The recent explosion in question answering research produced a wealth of both factoid reading comprehension (RC) and commonsense reasoning datasets. Combining them presents a different kind of task: deciding not simply whether information is present in the text, but also whether a confident guess could be made for the missing information. We present QuAIL, the first RC dataset to combine text-based, world knowledge and unanswerable questions, and to provide question type annotation that would enable diagnostics of the reasoning strategies by a given QA system. QuAIL contains 15K multi-choice questions for 800 texts in 4 domains. Crucially, it offers both general and text-specific questions, unlikely to be found in pretraining data. We show that QuAIL poses substantial challenges to the current state-of-the-art systems, with a 30% drop in accuracy compared to the most similar existing dataset. 
    more » « less
  2. “Theory of Mind” (ToM; people’s ability to infer and use information about others’ mental states) varies across cultures. In four studies ( N = 881), including two preregistered replications, we show that social class predicts performance on ToM tasks. In Studies 1A and 1B, we provide new evidence for a relationship between social class and emotion perception: Higher-class individuals performed more poorly than their lower-class counterparts on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which has participants infer the emotional states of targets from images of their eyes. In Studies 2A and 2B, we provide the first evidence that social class predicts visual perspective taking: Higher-class individuals made more errors than lower-class individuals in the Director Task, which requires participants to assume the visual perspective of another person. Potential mechanisms linking social class to performance in different ToM domains, as well as implications for deficiency-centered perspectives on low social class, are discussed. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    We know that reading involves coordination between textual characteristics and visual attention, but research linking eye movements during reading and comprehension assessed after reading is surprisingly limited, especially for reading long connected texts. We tested two competing possibilities: (a) the weak association hypothesis: Links between eye movements and comprehension are weak and short‐lived, versus (b) the strong association hypothesis: The two are robustly linked, even after a delay. Using a predictive modeling approach, we trained regression models to predict comprehension scores from global eye movement features, using participant‐level cross‐validation to ensure that the models generalize across participants. We used data from three studies in which readers (Ns = 104, 130, 147) answered multiple‐choice comprehension questions ~30 min after reading a 6,500‐word text, or after reading up to eight 1,000‐word texts. The models generated accurate predictions of participants' text comprehension scores (correlations between observed and predicted comprehension: 0.384, 0.362, 0.372,ps < .001), in line with the strong association hypothesis. We found that making more, but shorter fixations, consistently predicted comprehension across all studies. Furthermore, models trained on one study's data could successfully predict comprehension on the others, suggesting generalizability across studies. Collectively, these findings suggest that there is a robust link between eye movements and subsequent comprehension of a long connected text, thereby connecting theories of low‐level eye movements with those of higher order text processing during reading.

    more » « less
  4. Video games and immersive, narrative experiences are often called upon to help students understand difficult scientific concepts, such as sense of scale. However, the development of educational video games requires expertise and, frequently, a sizable budget. Here, we report on the use of an interactive text-style video game, NanoAdventure, to communicate about sense of scale and nanotechnology to the public. NanoAdventure was developed on an open-source, free-to-use platform with simple coding and enhanced with free or low-cost assets. NanoAdventure was launched in three languages (English, Spanish, Chinese) and compared to textbook-style and blog-style control texts in a randomized study. Participants answered questions on their knowledge of nanotechnology and their attitudes toward nanotechnology before and after reading one randomly assigned text (textbook, blog, or NanoAdventure game). Our results demonstrate that interactive fiction is effective in communicating about sense of scale and nanotechnology as well as the relevance of nanotechnology to a general public. NanoAdventure was found to be the most “fun” and easy to read of all text styles by participants in a randomized trial. Here, we make the case for interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” style games as another effective tool among educational game models for chemistry and science communication. 
    more » « less
  5. What can eye movements reveal about reading, a complex skill ubiquitous in everyday life? Research suggests that gaze can measure short-term comprehension for facts, but it is unknown whether it can measure long-term, deep comprehension. We tracked gaze while 147 participants read long, connected, in-formative texts and completed assessments of rote (factual) and inference (connecting ideas) comprehension while reading a text, after reading a text, after reading five texts, and after a seven-day delay. Gaze-based student-independent computa-tional models predicted both immediate and long-term rote and inference comprehension with moderate accuracies. Surprising-ly, the models were most accurate for comprehension assessed after reading all texts and predicted comprehension even after a week-long delay. This shows that eye movements can provide a lens into the cognitive processes underlying reading compre-hension, including inference formation, and the consolidation of information into long-term memory, which has implications for intelligent student interfaces that can automatically detect and repair comprehension in real-time. 
    more » « less