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Exploring the Relationship Between Fiction Reading and Emotion Recognition

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Fiction reading experience affects emotion recognition abilities, yet the causal link remains underspecified. Current theory suggests fiction reading promotes the simulation of fictional minds, which supports emotion recognition skills. We examine the extent to which contextualized statistical experience with emotion category labels in language is associated with emotion recognition. Using corpus analyses, we demonstrate fiction texts reliably use emotion category labels in an emotive sense (e.g., cry of relief), whereas other genres often use alternative senses (e.g., hurricane relief fund). Furthermore, fiction texts were shown to be a particularly reliable source of information about complex emotions. The extent to which these patterns affect human emotion concepts was analyzed in two behavioral experiments. In experiment 1 (n = 134), experience with fiction text predicted recognition of emotions employed in an emotive sense in fiction texts. In experiment 2 (n = 387), fiction reading experience predicted emotion recognition abilities, overall. These results suggest that long-term language experience, and fiction reading, in particular, supports emotion concepts through exposure to these emotions in context.

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Authors and Affiliations



Steven C. Schwering designed and conducted corpus analyses, conducted analyses for experiments 1 and 2, and prepared the manuscript; Natalie M. Ghaffari-Nikou designed experiment 1, collected data for experiment 1, and coded corpus data; Fangyun Zhao collected data for experiment 2; Paula M. Niedenthal and Maryellen MacDonald designed corpus analyses and experiments; all authors contributed to editing the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steven C. Schwering.

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Ethan Seidenberg and Dasha Yermol coded corpus analyses.

Funding Information

This research was funded by NSF grant #1849236, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) awards, and the Menzies and Royalty Research Award at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Data Availability

All data and analyses are available on the Open Science Foundation (

Code Availability

Not applicable

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

This experiment and the following experiment were approved by the University of Wisconsin-Madison I.R.B. and all participants gave their informed consent prior to participation.

Additional information

Handling editor: Kristen Lindquist

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Schwering, S.C., Ghaffari-Nikou, N.M., Zhao, F. et al. Exploring the Relationship Between Fiction Reading and Emotion Recognition. Affec Sci 2, 178–186 (2021).

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