Effects of exposure to literary narrative fiction: From book smart to street smart?

H.N.M. De Mulder, F. Hakemulder, Rianne van den Berghe, F. Klaassen, J.J.A. van Berkum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Literary narrative fiction may be particularly effective in enhancing Theory of Mind (ToM), as it requires readers to contemplate author and character intentions in filling the literary ‘gaps’ that have been suggested to characterise this fiction type. The current study investigates direct and cumulative effects of reading literature on ToM using confirmatory Bayesian analyses. Direct effects were assessed by comparing the ToM skills of participants who read texts that were manipulated to differ in the amount of gap filling they required. Cumulative effects were assessed by considering the relationship between lifetime literary fiction exposure and ToM. Results showed no evidence for direct effects of reading literature on ToM. However, lifetime literary fiction exposure was associated with higher ToM, particularly cognitive ToM. Although reading a specific piece of literary fiction may thus not have immediately measurable effects on ToM, lifetime exposure to this fiction type is associated with more advanced ToM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-169
JournalScientific Study of Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • literary narrative fiction
  • Theory of Mind
  • literary gaps
  • literariness
  • author recognition test
  • Bayesian analyses


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