Inference or enaction? The impact of genre on the narrative processing of other minds.
Carney J., Wlodarski R., Dunbar R.
Do narratives shape how humans process other minds or do they presuppose an existing theory of mind? This study experimentally investigated this problem by assessing subject responses to systematic alterations in the genre, levels of intentionality, and linguistic complexity of narratives. It showed that the interaction of genre and intentionality level are crucial in determining how narratives are cognitively processed. Specifically, genres that deployed evolutionarily familiar scenarios (relationship stories) were rated as being higher in quality when levels of intentionality were increased; conversely, stories that lacked evolutionary familiarity (espionage stories) were rated as being lower in quality with increases in intentionality level. Overall, the study showed that narrative is not solely either the origin or the product of our intuitions about other minds; instead, different genres will have different-even opposite-effects on how we understand the mind states of others.