One small step outside the here and now: what stories can tell us about children’s perspective-taking

Ziegler, Fenja V. (2015) One small step outside the here and now: what stories can tell us about children’s perspective-taking. In: IGEL Conference, 10 - 12 July 2015, Goettingen, Germany.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


The enjoyment of fiction and narrative depends on our ability to step outside our own perspective and take that of another person in a different spatial and temporal reference frame. Readers form rich and vibrant representations of events or scenes described in text, which have many of the same properties as events that are encountered in the real world. Zwaan (1999; Zwaan & Radvansky, 1998) in reviewing the literature on adult readers’ mental models presented evidence that situation models share properties with the situation they represent in the dimensions of time, space, causation, intentionality and protagonists. By comparison to the wealth of adult literature, the study of children’s mental models in narrative has been relatively neglected. This seems particularly surprising given the enjoyment children gain from stories and fiction (Harris, 2000), the importance narrative has for their social development (Carpendale & Lewis, 2004) and the opportunity for researchers to use narrative to learn about children’s ability to create situation models that are grounded in the ability to simulate. Indeed, narrative comprehension and social interactions both often depend on the ability to take someone else’s perspective, and narratives therefore offer the opportunity to study children’s perspective-taking in a playful and familiar context.

Here I present evidence from a series of studies using different experimental paradigms with children to show that perspective taking in stories and narrative is present even when the protagonist is an inanimate object, but it is not as strong as it is for protagonists who are people. This suggests a dual process of perspective taking that is partly empathic, but also partly driven by pragmatic cues of language. Perspective taking is therefore strongest when the cues of language combine with the opportunity to imaginatively project into the space occupied by the protagonist through an empathic process.

Keywords:spatial perspective taking, literature, empathy, mental models, perspective taking, response time, Abbeys
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:19608
Deposited On:19 Nov 2015 19:50

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