Speaker: Paul Sopcak @Paul
Affiliation: RWTH Aachen University
Title: The Mediating Effects of an Explanatory Form of Reading Engagement on the Relationship Between Expressive Enactment and Distinct Moral Outcomes
Abstract (long version below): In the proposed paper, we discuss results of analyses that replicated and disambiguated evidence that an openly reflective form of reading engagement (Expressive Enactment) facilitates global respect for human subjectivity. We found that Cognitive Perspective-Taking and Affective Realism are the components of an interpretive, explanation-seeking form reading engagement (Integrative Comprehension) that make a modest contribution to the prediction of lower Racist Attitudes. The presented results substantiate not only the distinction between Expressive Enactment and Integrative Comprehension but also the distinction between the local and global forms of moral change that may be outcomes of deeply engaged literary reading.
In the paper proposed here, we use distinctions grounded in existential-phenomenological philosophy and structural equation modeling to add conceptual nuance to the discussion regarding the relationship between literary reading, absorption, empathy, and changes in social cognition. Specifically, we adopt Kuiken and Douglas’s (2017) contrast between two forms of absorbed reading engagement, as measured by the Absorption-Like States Questionnaire (ASQ): Expressive Enactment and Integrative Comprehension. Each of these forms of absorption involves empathy-like social cognition—but in a different form than was addressed in previous studies. Briefly, Expressive Enactment subsumes an expressive, meaning-explicating form of empathy-like social cognition, whereas Integrative Comprehension subsumes an interpretive, explanation-seeking form of empathy-like social cognition. The distinction between these two forms of empathy-like response differs from the distinction between affective and cognitive empathy that was invoked in the past to explain the results of previous research on this topic (e.g., Johnson, 2012, 2013; Bal and Veltkamp, 2013; Healey & Grossman 2018; Melchers et al., 2015). Kuiken and colleagues (Kuiken and Douglas, 2017, 2018; Kuiken, Douglas, and Kuijpers 2021; Sopcak & Kuiken, 2022) have repeatedly found that Expressive Enactment and Integrative Comprehension—and the contrasting forms of empathy-like social cognition that they subsume—differentially predict aesthetic, explanatory, and pragmatic reading outcomes.
After conducting a pilot study, we specifically examined the contrast between global and local forms of moral outcome as a function of these differing forms of reading engagement in two separate studies. Local forms of moral outcome include changes in Racist Attitudes toward a specific group or outgroup (Zick, Küpper, and Hövermann; 2011). Global forms of moral outcome, in contrast, involve an inclusive, other-directed respect for the complexities of human subjectivity—or what we have called “Non-Utilitarian Respect” (Kuiken, Campbell, and Sopcak, 2012). Items used to assess Non-Utilitarian Respect include “It seemed wrong to treat people like objects”; “I was keenly aware of people’s inherent dignity”; “I felt deep respect for humanity.”
We consistently found that the form of reading engagement subsumed by Expressive Enactment predicted higher Racist Attitudes (local moral outcome), whereas Integrative Comprehension predicted lower Racist Attitudes. Conversely, Expressive Enactment consistently predicted Non-Utilitarian Respect (global moral outcome), whereas Integrative Comprehension did not reliably predict Non-Utilitarian Respect. These results were reported in Sopcak, Kuiken and Douglas (2022).
In the proposed paper, we present the results of further, theoretically motivated, structural equation modeling in which we analyze the mediation effect of Integrative Comprehension on the relationship between Expressive Enactment and the different moral outcomes and further sought to determine which of the individual components of the multi-dimensional construct Integrative Comprehension were driving the observed effects.
We found that the path leading from Open Reflection to Expressive Enactment and from there through Integrative Comprehension as a mediator to Racist Attitudes (local moral outcome) maintained the structure of the relationship between the forms of reading engagement and racist attitudes observed in the initial analyses, that is, Expressive Enactment directly predicting higher Racist Attitudes (β = – .23, p = 0.033) and the converse when Integrative Comprehension functions as a mediator (β = .29, p = 0.004).
Looking at the paths from Expressive Enactment to Non-Utilitarian Respect (global moral outcome), once directly and once with Integrative Comprehension as mediator allowed us to disambiguate previous results. We found that Expressive Enactment strongly directly predicts Non-Utilitarian Respect (β = .43, p < 0.001), whereas the relationship disappears with Integrative Comprehension as a mediator (β = .12, ns), indicating that Expressive Enactment, independently from Integrative Comprehension, is the driver of Non-Utilitarian Respect. These results were consistently replicated across Study 2.
In further analyses, we looked at the respective contributions of individual components of Integrative Comprehension to the relationships observed above. We found that Cognitive Perspective Taking (β = .23, p < 0.01) and Affective Realism (β = .24, p < 0.01) were the main drivers of the relationship between Integrative Comprehension and lower Racist Attitudes. Extra-Personal Space and Character Realism were not consistently significantly related to the local moral outcome.
In sum, we replicated and disambiguated evidence that openly reflective Expressive Enactment (but not Integrative Comprehension) facilitates global respect for human subjectivity. We found that Cognitive Perspective-Taking and Affective Realism are the components of Integrative Comprehension that make a modest contribution to the prediction of lower Racist Attitudes. The present results substantiate not only the distinction between Expressive Enactment and Integrative Comprehension but also the distinction between the local and global forms of moral change that may be outcomes of deeply engaged literary reading.
* In Study 1 lower change scores, hence the negative number. Since no pretest scores of local moral attitudes (e.g., racism) were collected in Study 2, the relationship reported for Study 2 is, strictly speaking, between the forms of reading engagement and the level of local moral attitudes directly. This required a reversal of the directionality of scores in the interpretation of the results (e.g., higher racism scores in Study 2 is parallel to lower change scores in Study 1).
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