Genres of Modern Literary Fiction

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The literary scholar William Deresiewicz (2014) concludes a review of two histories of the novel with the observation that “the novel rose with modern selves because the novel, classically, relates the story of an individual attempting to create herself against existing definitions.” The notion of a self defined, as Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) puts it, in terms of “his social position, the degree to which he is sociologically or characterologically typical, his habitus, his spiritual profile and even his very physical appearance” (p. 48) was supplanted by one in which the self is given meaning by “the significance of these features for the hero himself, for his self-consciousness” (p. 48). Of course, self-consciousness is not a recent innovation and modern selves do not always challenge existing definitions. The emphasis placed on subjectivity in much of literature, though, is hard to miss.

Taking note of modern fiction’s apparent preoccupation with characters’ inner lives, psychologists have begun to investigate how reading habits relate to individual differences in the psychological processes involved in understanding others’ mental states in the real world. Raymond Mar and his colleagues (Mar, Oatley, Hirsh, de la Paz, & Peterson, 2006; Mar, Oatley, & Peterson, 2009) gave this line of research initial empirical traction with two studies designed to test whether exposure to fiction would positively predict performance on an advanced test of mental-state understanding, or Theory of Mind (ToM).

ToM was assessed using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001), which requires that participants correctly identify complex mental states (e.g., contemplative, confident) shown in images of actors’ eyes. Familiarity with fiction was measured with the Author Recognition Test (ART). The ART consists of a list containing names of authors and non-authors, and participants are asked to select those they recognize as authors. Participants who select more authors are also more likely to prefer reading to other activities, report reading regularly (Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992; Stanovich, West, & Harrison, 1995), and include fiction on an online shopping wishlist (Rain & Mar, 2014).

Results of both studies showed that familiarity with fiction (ART score) was positively related to performance on the test of ToM (RMET score), even after accounting for exposure to nonfiction, age, gender, general intelligence, self-reported empathy, and openness to experience. These results show that exposure to fiction, at least as indicated by high ART scores, positively correlates with an important socio-perceptual skill. Yet, the manner of assessing exposure to fiction used in these studies seems to gloss over the fact that fiction is not a homogeneous category.

The diversity of fiction can be mapped in many ways, but where and why boundaries should be drawn is invariably contentious. Some scholars have focused on variation across popular genres in the importance of characters’ thoughts and emotions within the story relative to the plot or setting. For example, recent research has shown that familiarity with romance fiction, which is focused on relationships and emotions, positively relates to ToM, but familiarity with other genres (e.g., thriller, science fiction) does not (Fong, Mullin, & Mar, 2013).

It is also possible to distinguish between popular genre fiction and literary fiction. Jèmeljan Hakemulder (2000) observes that “making sense of the emotions of characters in a popular romance story usually does not demand much reflection or imagination. But literary characters . . . are like full-blown human beings; puzzling and complex, rather than rudimentary and stereotypical” (p. 15). Consequently, literary fiction may be more likely than popular fiction to extensively recruit readers’ capacities to understand others as individuals.

Consistent with this prediction, a recent series of five experiments showed that participants who were assigned to read works of literary fiction scored higher on a variety of ToM measures, compared to those who were made to read popular genre fiction, non-fiction works, on who had not read anything at all (Kidd & Castano, 2013). Our aim is to complement and expand on these findings, by presenting a more detailed rationale of why literary fiction but not popular fiction should enhance ToM processes, and present new, if convergent evidence, for the relation between exposure to literary fiction and ToM performance.

The Psychology of Reading Literary and Popular Fiction. Humans live in complex societies in which behavior is constrained and influenced by rich social scripts and norms, and it is thus possible (and necessary) to navigate many social environments by relying on a naive folk sociology rather than folk psychology, or ToM (Hirschfeld, 2006; 2013).

In fact, interpretation of social situations and inference about others are often made by drawing on information associated with the context and the social identity of such others (e.g., Brewer, 1998; Young, Hugenberg, Bernstein, & Sacco, 2012). That is, we are often able to determine what others are likely to do and what they expect of us based on our general knowledge of how different types of people are likely to behave in various situations. In some cases, such as when we rely on prejudiced stereotypes, these inferences may be inaccurate and harmful, but they often provide a satisfactory or even superior (see Hirschfeld, 2013) alternative to folk psychology.

Mentalizing, then, is not necessarily evoked equally by all social situations or actors. Most models of social cognition posit that perceptions are most likely to be based on social categories unless perceivers are motivated to form individuated impressions based on the other’s thoughts and feelings (Swencionis & Fiske, 2013). Consequently, activities that highlight the relevance of others’ complex subjective experience are more likely to promote reliance on folk psychology.


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Genres of Modern Literary Fiction. (2021, Mar 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/genres-of-modern-literary-fiction/



What are the 5 main genres of fictional literature?
The five main genres of fictional literature are romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror. Each genre has its own unique characteristics and themes that appeal to different readers.
What are the 5 modern literary genres?
The 5 modern literary genres are: 1) Realistic fiction 2) Romance 3) Horror 4) Science fiction 5) Fantasy
what are the common characteristics of modern literary genres?
There are many different modern literary genres, but some common characteristics include stories that are realistic and deal with everyday life, as well as stories that are imaginative and deal with other worlds.
What are the genres of literary fiction?
A framework is a set of guidelines or principles that are used to organize something. In policy making, a framework is a set of principles that are used to guide the policy making process.
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