New Insights on Fiction Feelings: the impact of frequent reading on eye-tracking data

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Dr. des. Anastasia Glawion

:classical_building: Affiliation: TU Darmstadt

Title: New Insights on Fiction Feelings: the impact of frequent reading on eye-tracking data.

Abstract (long version below): The talk presents preliminary results of a recently conducted reading experiment, in which eye-tracking, EEG and GSR data was collected, while participants were reading passages from passages from “Harry Potter’’ along with two different types of fan fiction based on elements of that fandom. The findings shed light on the fiction feeling hypothesis as well as the connection between text-inherent sentiment and reader response. Our analyses combine results of the Reading Habit Questionnaire and physiological data connected to arousal. It appears that habitual consumption of literature influences the perception of passages that were considered “happy”, “fearful”, or “neutral”.


:newspaper: Long abstract

In our talk, we would like to present preliminary results of a recently conducted experiment that aims to bridge the gap between psychologically-oriented reader response studies and reception studies grounded in literary studies (Kavanagh, 2021), providing insight on emotional processing on the paragraph level. The experiment contained passages from the best-selling “Harry Potter” book series in German language together with fan fiction excerpts from the same fandom. The first aim of the experiment was to replicate an earlier fMRI and eye-tracking study conducted by Hsu (2015), but focusing on different measurement methods, namely the brain’s electrical activity (EEG), the participants’ galvanic skin response (GSR) as well as their eye movements.

The selection of stimuli contained 40 texts marked as fearful, 40 neutral ones and 40 texts marked as “happy”. Further, we added fan fiction texts to the list of stimuli that were previously selected by 82 fan fiction readers as eliciting particularly strong emotions using the self-assessment manikin. Two types of fan fiction stimuli were included in the sample: half of them was similar to the original “Harry Potter”-texts in both text and described episodes and was classified as “general fan fiction”. The other half was marked as “badfiction” and contained elements that were unusual to the canon. Badfiction is a fan fiction subgenre, whereby the author writes a text intentionally bad, for instance by using a poor writing style, an illogical storyline or characters behaving untypical to the canon (Badfic, 2021). Overall, 40 native German speakers were required to read 150 passages (120 originals, 15 fan fictions and 15 badfictions). Subsequently, participants filled out a questionnaire about their knowledge level of the transmedial Harry Potter fandom, as well as the Author Recognition Test (Grolig et al. 2020, Stanovich et al. 1989) and the general Reading Habit Questionnaire (RHQ, Kuipers et al. 2020).

The extremely versatile selection of stimuli in Hsu’s study uncovered a variety of aspects connected to the empirical study of literature. One of them is especially stimulating for the focus of our talk: the connection between immersion and emotional content, “especially negative, arousing and suspenseful texts’’ (Hsu, Conrad, Jacobs 2014; 1357). While the experiment was aiming to answer a number of different research questions, one particular will be examined in detail:

Do measured indicators of arousal, pupil size and galvanic skin response (Bradley et al. 2008), demonstrate comparable results to other studies of the fiction feeling hypothesis, for example, that passages marked as “fearful” elicit stronger reactions than those marked as “happy” or “neutral” (Hsu, Conrad, Jacobs 2014, Eekhof et al. 2021)?

Overall, our results shed light on the additional factors at play in researching that question. There was no correlation between pupil size and the emotional valence of the stimuli across participants. This did not seem surprising to us, because based on our pilot study we expected the participant’s genre preferences to be a predictor of reaction amplitude. Therefore, we implemented the results of the RHQ and compared groups of participants who happened to frequently read horror stories, thrillers, or crime novels to those who didn’t read these particular three genres. The difference between these two groups was weak and statistically insignificant. It is only when we compared the top nine frequent readers to the top nine non-frequent readers, when we saw robust correlations. The results were robust when mean pupil size data as well as minimum pupil size data were compared, but significance dropped when the sample of maximum pupil size was analyzed.

Hence, one of our preliminary results is the fact that frequent readers demonstrate stronger reactions to textual stimuli of different valence. This means that despite recent theoretical advances in the understanding of the neurocognitive mechanisms behind literary reading, it is important to take into account the level of preparation of the reader.

Badfic. (2021, November 4). PPC Wiki. Badfic | PPC Wiki | Fandom
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Eekhof, Lynn S., Kobie van Krieken, José Sanders, und Roel M. Willems. „Reading Minds, Reading Stories: Social-Cognitive Abilities Affect the Linguistic Processing of Narrative Viewpoint“. Frontiers in Psychology 12 (28. September 2021): 698986. Frontiers | Reading Minds, Reading Stories: Social-Cognitive Abilities Affect the Linguistic Processing of Narrative Viewpoint.
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1 Like

Thanks for your very interesting presentation, Anastasia! Just referring to the point where we were just violently cut off for the keynote (joking :slight_smile: ), it sounded to me as if you might have had floor/ceiling effects with regard to the fandom measures so that it remained difficult to see the impact the degree of fandom had on your results (?). So perhaps the question to what degree the specific nature of the Harry Potter texts and personal, cultural etc. associations influences responses to the text (also on a physiological level) may be worth reconsidering – basically, what Giulia also mentioned at the end. Also, I was wondering whether you added the scores from the book and movie fandom measures (perhaps you said it – sorry). Because if you did, you may have misrepresented in your data ‘hardcore’ fans who only read the books but never watched a movie. Just another thought. In any case, I’m looking forward to read the paper if/when you publish!