Neurocognitive processing in narrative poetry reading

:speech_balloon: Speaker : Mesian Tilmatine

:classical_building: Affiliation : Free University of Berlin

Title : Neurocognitive processing in narrative poetry reading

Abstract :
The process of foregrounding is crucial to the appreciation of literary texts, but it can fail for various reasons, excluding many readers from valuable cultural heritage. In the proposed poster, we will present a possible approach to studying the mechanisms of failure in narrative poetry. We present the results of our cross-methodological study on neurocognitive poetics and relate them to the NCPM, the PIA, and the model of failed foregrounding. Specifically, we highlight the roles of narrative styles, aesthetic appreciation, and cognitive costs for the individual emotional engagement in literary reading.


:newspaper: Long abstract
In comparison to informative texts like an article in a newspaper, literary fiction is much more defined by the aesthetics of its writing style. According to the neurocognitive poetics model (NCPM; Jacobs, 2015), the reader engages with this writing style for more emotional involvement. This can manifest itself in two ways: the reader getting immersed into the narrative, and the reader appreciating the foregrounded aesthetic text elements.

However, this is an idealized representation of a reader’s interaction with a literary text. Completely or partially failed foregrounding can lead to confusion and negative appraisal instead of aesthetic appreciation (Harash, 2021). In terms of the pleasure-interest model of aesthetic liking (PIA; Graf & Landwehr, 2015) – which is originally not specific to literary reading –, failed foregrounding would be a discrepancy in the expected fluency of aesthetic processing. All three models also have in common that they recognize the importance of contextual factors and the individual reader, and this is not a new idea in psycholinguistics (Kidd, Donnelly, & Christiansen, 2018). As all three models are perfectly compatible with each other, they should be considered in this larger context for failed foregrounding research. An accordingly updated version of the NCPM will be a visual part of the poster, as it is central to our hypotheses.

Enactive narrative styles tend to evoke more mental imagery than descriptive ones (Magyari et al., 2020), and imagery-evoking texts mediate mood and empathy (Lüdtke et al., 2014). Accordingly, we chose two text excerpts from Johann W. Goethe’s Faust (Goethe, 1808) for our current study, one being heavy on descriptive monologues, and the other one mainly consisting of enactive dialogues. Faust is one of most-praised works of German literature, and conveniently combines poetry with a narrative play – allowing us to study the effects of lyric aesthetics in a context that might be more accessible to the average reader, and thus more likely to fluctuate in how much subjects fail their foregrounding.

To get a complete picture of the subjective and objective reader response to these text excerpts, we conducted an eye-tracking study, giving the participants no other task but to attentively read, and to then fill in surveys about the text excerpts. The questions included comprehension checks, ratings for selected text elements, open recall questions, and a selection of items from immersion and appreciation questionnaires (inspired by Thissen, Menninghaus, and Schlotz, 2018; Seilman and Larsen, 1989; Appel et al., 2015; Buselle and Bilandzic, 2009; Dixon et al., 1993; Lüdtke, Meyer-Sickendieck, & Jacobs, 2014). In addition to that, we gathered data for each participant on their individual reading experience, media and genre preferences, as well as semantic processing skills.
In a number of exploratory analyses, we are currently using the richness of cross-methodological data to reconstruct the foregrounding processes of our participants; where they were successful, where they (partially) failed, which sort of text elements this related to, and how this manifested itself in eye gaze behaviour, reading speed, comprehension, and ratings.

For the proposed poster, we want to concentrate on the subjective response, that is, on the rating-related findings. The text ratings included 7-point scale items on reading fluency (N = 2), ease of access (N = 2), immersion (N = 3), aesthetic appreciation (N = 3), liking, suspense, personal resonance, and evoked mood (all with N = 1). The two open questions inquired which parts of the text remained most presently in the subject’s memory after reading, and what the subject liked or disliked about the text excerpt.

In accordance with the extended NCPM, we thus expect to find higher values for the dialogue-heavy text excerpt over the more descriptive one in reading fluency, immersion, personal resonance, evoked mood, and suspense.

As the text excerpts both stem from the same highly lauded literary work, we expect no difference in aesthetic appreciation, although there might be an interactional effect of the individual reading experience, especially experience regarding poetry. Individual differences might also affect liking and ease of access scores, once again in accordance with the extended NCPM.
The qualitative analysis of the open question will be the key to identify specific text elements that can further explain the reader response.

To contextualize this, we also ran an additional online validation study in early 2022, wherein subjects rated all stanzas of both text excerpts complexity, liking, arousal, and valence. This will be considered in the rating analysis for this poster. A stanza-level analysis of eye-tracking data will be developed at a later point on the base of the rating data and not be presented on the proposed poster.

Appel, M., Gnambs, T., Richter, T., & Green, M. C. (2015). The transportation scale–short form (TS–SF). Media Psychology, 18(2), 243-266.
Busselle, R., & Bilandzic, H. (2009). Measuring narrative engagement. Media Psychology, 12(4), 321-347.
Dixon, P., Bortolussi, M., Twilley, L. C., & Leung, A. (1993). Literary processing and interpretation: Towards empirical foundations. Poetics, 22(1-2), 5-33. Redirecting
Goethe, J. W. (1808). Faust: Der Tragödie erster Teil.
Graf, L. K., & Landwehr, J. R. (2015). A dual-process perspective on fluency-based aesthetics. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 19(4), 395-410.
Harash, A. (2021). The model of failed foregrounding. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. APA PsycNet
Jacobs, A. M. (2015). Neurocognitive poetics: Methods and models for investigating the neuronal and cognitive-affective bases of literature reception. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9. Frontiers | Neurocognitive poetics: methods and models for investigating the neuronal and cognitive-affective bases of literature reception
Kidd, E., Donnelly, S., & Christiansen, M. H. (2018). Individual differences in language acquisition and processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(2), 154-169. Redirecting
Lüdtke, J., Meyer-Sickendieck, B., & Jacobs, A. M. (2014). Immersing in the stillness of an early morning: Testing the mood empathy hypothesis of poetry reception. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(3), 363-377. APA PsycNet
Magyari, L., Mangen, A., Kuzmičová, A., Jacobs, A. M., & Lüdtke, J. (2020). Eye movements and mental imagery during reading of literary texts with different narrative styles. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 13(3).
Seilman, U., & Larsen, S. F. (1989). Personal resonance to literature: A study of remindings while reading. Poetics, 18(1-2), 165-177. Redirecting
Thissen, B. A., Menninghaus, W., & Schlotz, W. (2018). Measuring optimal reading experiences: The reading flow short scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. Frontiers | Measuring Optimal Reading Experiences: The Reading Flow Short Scale

1 Like

Thank you Mesian for that very comprehensive study presentation. I really liked your combination of theoretical-empirical models underlying literary text processing: I haven’t seen the NCPM combined with the pleasure interest model and/or the failed foregrounding model. Could you tell us a little more about the role of fluent processing in this combined model? It seems as though in this iteration of the NCPM, there is fluent processing in both the immersive and the aesthetic reading trajectory (in the sense that fluent processing of foregrounding is one of the possible trajectories within the aesthetic reading trajectories). Am I right in interpreting the combined model like that? Also, do you think a reader who is fluently processing foregrounding could be considered immersed in what they are reading (as fluent processing traditionally was seen as the main instigator of the immersive trajectory in the NCPM)?

Thanks for your presentation Mesian. You mention a tool called G-Lean (Lüdtke & Hugentobler 2022) but I cannot find any reference to it, could you please share the link to the source? Thanks! Giulia

Continuing from Giulia’s question, the two tools you mentioned, G-Lean and SentiArt, are they proprietary/private or available to test out and play with? Thanks! Really enjoyed your talk.