On how Fiction Impacts the Self-Concept: Transformative ReadingExperiences and StoryworldPossible Selves

Cristina Loi, Frank Hakemulder, Moniek Kuijpers, Gerhard Lauer

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Several empirical findings suggest that reading fiction expands and shapes our senseof self. This paper contributes to this line of research by mapping which temporaldimensions of the self-concept (Markus & Nurius, 1987) are activated and transformedwhile reading fiction. To investigate potential general trends, we distributed an onlinesurvey (N = 543), collecting data on a wide range of reading experiences (i.e., books,digital fiction, and Wattpad) that readers retrospectively identified as transformative.The first step of our study was to measure which dimensions of the self-concept wereactivated by reading fiction. This activation is defined as the emergence of a storyworldpossible self (SPSs, Martínez, 2018), that is, a blend between the reader and a characterin the story that resembles the readers’ present self, past self, or a (desired or feared)possible self. We found that present self-SPSs were the most reported by readers,shortly followed by desired possible self-SPSs and then, with a sharper divide, by pastself-SPSs and feared SPSs. Furthermore, emotional engagement and transportation(two aspects of Story World Absorption, Kuijpers et al., 2014) were positively relatedto the activation of all SPS dimensions. In the second step of our study, we identifiedwhich areas of the self-concept were transformed by reading fiction, by applying amixed-methods content analysis on readers’ open description of how their readingexperience had an impact on their lives. In the qualitative data, we found the sametrend observed with the emergence of SPSs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-67
JournalScientific Study of Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2023


  • self-concept
  • transformative reading experiences
  • story world possible selves
  • books
  • digital fiction


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