Emotional responses to characters in dementia fiction: A comparison

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Dr. Carolina Fernandez-Quintanilla
:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Huddersfield
Title: Emotional responses to characters in dementia fiction: A comparison

Abstract (long version below): This project investigates how the language of contemporary fiction represents the minds of characters with dementia. There has been a ‘boom’ in fiction about dementia, reflecting the rise in the condition itself and society’s need to understand it. The project involves:

  1. Stylistic analyses of the fictional texts, revealing how the language represents the cognitive experience of these characters i.e. their mind styles (see Lugea, forthcoming).
  2. Extracts from the fiction are then used in reading groups to investigate how real readers respond. The responses inform our understanding of how the fiction works, but also reveal the impact of fictional accounts of dementia on readers, culture and society.

:movie_camera: [example to be replaced]

:newspaper: Long abstract

Readers’ emotional responses to narrative have been given increasing attention in cognitive stylistics and empirical literary studies. There are several taxonomies of emotions that arise during reading (Mar et al., 2011; Carroll, 2011). These include experiences such as empathy, sympathy, identification or solidarity. We analyse the emotional responses that readers reported when engaging with dementia mind styles (see Lugea, forthcoming).

Four groups of participants responded to the same textual stimuli (i.e., extracts of narratives that portray the inner perspective of characters with dementia). These groups consisted of (1) people with dementia, (2) family carers of people living with dementia, (3) student social workers and (4) members of the general public. In our analysis, we find very interesting differences and similarities across the four groups in the way readers position themselves towards characters and events.

In this paper, we explore a traditional concern of cognitive stylistics and cognitive narratology – the complex interplay between text and reader. We address this ‘black box’ of literary response with the aim to unpack the factors that come into play. We pay attention to both the textual cues that seem to trigger responses (bottom-up processing), and the aspects of readers’ experiential background (Caracciolo, 2014) that can influence responses (top-down processing). We discuss how readers’ individual and collective experiences and identity in relation to dementia bring to bear on their responses. We will also make links to the conference topic of diversity and inclusion, such as the diversity of characters in dementia fiction, or the importance of doing research with people with dementia making sure that their voices are included in the research (in line with the disability rights motto ‘Not about us without us’).