Psychology of Fiction Spring 2015

Hello, everyone. It’s the Spring 2015 semester and you’ve enrolled in PSYC 690 / PSYC 993 Psychology of Fiction!

Please download the updated course syllabus [link de-activated]. In addition, please download [link de-activated] and review the two-column formatted Word document, into which you can type up weekly comments. Your final paper will follow this formatting.

This website will feature class lecture highlights and the complete reading list for the course. So scroll down and check it out! Feel free to email me at dr.ramey (at) mac (dot) com, if you have any questions.

Oatley book cover The psychology of fictionPSYC690 / PSYC993 Psychology of Fiction

offered as an undergraduate-level and graduate-level course
3 hours
scheduled from 4:15 PM to 5:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays Spring 2015
Location: MAL 2049
Main textbook, supplemented with PDF readings:
Oatley, K. (2011). Such stuff as dreams: The psychology of fiction. New York, NY: Wiley.
Conceptual questions to consider:

  • What is ‘psychology of fiction’?
  • Human beings as the storytelling animal: Language as a tool to augment normal, everyday cognitive processes
  • Is fiction like real life? How does one understand others’ minds, both real and fictional (to include pathological deficits in understanding others)
  • What are the short- and long-term cognitive, social, and emotional consequences of exposure to fiction? The relation between reading fiction and the development of empathy
  • What are the neural underpinnings of reading fiction, and are there relations to autobiographical memory and mental time travel, empathy, and imagination? (Please note that this is not a neuroscience-intensive course.)
  • If seeing is believing, is reading also believing? The relation between language and thought
  • Is there a difference between metaphorical and literal language comprehension
  • Historical and modern psychological theories of the creative process, creative writing, and creative writers
  • Does a fictional character have free will? Why does one hold a fictional character responsible for his or her behavior? Comprehension of situational models in language (i.e., understanding actions and emotions in text, representation of knowledge and the imagination).

January 20, 22 Meetings

This week we review the course syllabus and course expectations and consider some introductory matters on defining the subject matter of the psychology of fiction.


Required Oatley (2011; Chapter 1)
Supplementary reading: Borges (1941/1998).

January 27, 29 Meetings

This week we consider differences between works of fact and works of fiction, as well as what happens when we mistake one for the other. We then consider whether the psychological study of fiction is obstructed by psychology’s so-called ‘two cultures’.


Supplementary readings: Kimble (1984), Stolnitz (1991, 1992), Snow (1959)

February 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19 Meetings

These weeks we consider what works of fiction offer in the way of ‘truth’ and how the field of psychology can help us understand the practices of those who create and enjoy fiction (e.g., why it seems best for a writer to start a story a certain way). In addition, we consider research on ‘theory of mind’ and how a reader gets in a character’s head.


Required Oatley (2011; Chapter 2), Calvino (1981/1999) Consider if Calvino offers anything of a positive claim (i.e., a counterexample) to Stolnitz’s claims about ‘artistic truths’.

Supplementary readings: Royzman and Rubin (2006), McGlone and Tofighbakhsh (2000).

Future required reading: Freud (1915/1925) Chapter 2 of Oatley discusses ‘theory of mind’; consider this Freud text in relation to what it means to get in someone’s head.

February 24, 26 & March 3, 5, 10, 12 Meetings

These weeks we consider alternative accounts to social cognition, contrasting theory of mind with the thesis of the extended mind. We also consider the nature of real and fictional ‘friends’. We also consider some implications of functionalism and non-individualism (e.g., if meaning isn’t in the head, what about the meaning of books you’ve read?).


Required Clark and Chalmers (1998), Freud (1915/1925), Oatley (2011; Chapter 2)

Required Bostrom (2003), Oatley (2011, Chapters 3 and 4)

Supplementary readings: Ramey (in press) (on extended mind), Wimmer and Perner (1983) (on theory of mind), Craik (1943) (on models), Dunbar (1993)

March 17, 19 is SPRING BREAK

March 24, 26, 31, April 2, 7, 9 … Meetings

These weeks we consider the reality of simulated minds and simulated worlds, as well as imaginary friends.


Required Oatley (2011, Chapters 3, 4, and 5)

Taylor, Hodges, and Kohányi (2002-2003); Heider and Simmel (1943); Wegner and Wheatley (1999)

Supplementary readings: Ramey (2014)

April 14, 16, 21, 23, 28, 30, as well as May 5, 7 Meeting

These weeks we consider a continuation of the past unit (viz. whether or not characters in works of fiction possess free will, and if they do not whether that makes them any different than real human beings!). We also consider the theory of embodiment and the ‘extended body’ as it pertains to psychology and language and what it might mean for the psychology of fiction. Finally, we round out the course with a discussion of how reading fiction might be related to increased empathetic abilities.


Required Oatley (2011, Chapters 6, 7, and 8)

Supplementary readings of interest, some of which are hard to find: Billington (2011) on books in prisons; Kidd and Castano (2013) on a causal relation between empathy and theory of mind and fiction and; Todd (2008) on reading groups and the social dimension of fiction;