Patterns of cognitive dissonance in readers’ engagement with characters
Leon Festinger’s account of cognitive dissonance, published in 1957, has become one of the most successful theories in the history of social psychology. I argue that Festinger’s framework—and the research it generated over the last sixty years—can shed light on key aspects of readers’ engagement with literary characters. Literature can invite the audience to vicariously experience characters’ dissonance through an empathetic mechanism, but it can also induce dissonant states in readers by encouraging them to take on attitudes and beliefs that are significantly different from their own. I suggest that there are two strategies—or patterns of reader-response—through which the audience can cope with the dissonance between their own worldview and the characters’: attitude change and imaginative resistance. In the first, readers adjust their own beliefs and values according to what they have experienced and learned in adopting characters’ perspectives. By contrast, in imaginative resistance readers’ worldview prevents them from establishing an empathetic bond with characters. I integrate these hypotheses into a model that builds on theoretical as well as empirical insights into reader-response.
Alber, Jan et al. “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology: Beyond Mimetic Models.” Narrative 18.2 (2010): 113–136. Print.
American Psychological Association. “Distinguished Scientific Contribution Awards.” The American Psychologist 14.12 (1959): 784–793. Print.
Amis, Martin. Time’s Arrow: Or the Nature of the Offence. London: Vintage, 2003. Print.
Aronson, Elliot. “Dissonance Theory: Progress and Problems.” Theories of Cognitive Consistency: A Sourcebook. Ed. Robert P. Abelson et al. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1968. 5–27. Print.
Bambara, Toni Cade. “The Hammer Man.” The Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories. Ed. Tobias Wolff. London: Picador, 1993. 11–17. Print.
Baroni, Raphaël. “Tellability.” Ed. Peter Hühn et al. Handbook of Narratology 2009 : 447–453. Print.
Bernini, Marco, and Marco Caracciolo. Letteratura, Cognizione e Scienze Cognitive. Rome: Carocci, forthcoming. Print.
Bortolussi, Marisa, and Peter Dixon. Psychonarratology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
Caracciolo, Marco. “Beyond Other Minds: Fictional Characters, Mental Simulation, and ‘Unnatural’ Experiences.” Journal of Narrative Theory 44.1 (2014): n. pag. Print.
---. “Narrative, Meaning, Interpretation: An Enactivist Approach.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 11.3 (2012): 367–384. Print.
---. “Notes for A(nother) Theory of Experientiality.” Journal of Literary Theory 6.1 (2012): 141–158. Print.
---. “Two Child Narrators: Defamiliarization, Empathy, and Reader-Response in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident and Emma Donoghue’s Room.” Semiotica (forthcoming): n. pag. Print.
Chatman, Seymour. “Backwards.” Narrative 17.1 (2009): 31–55. Print.
Cohen, Arthur R. “A Dissonance Analysis of the Boomerang Effect.” Journal of Personality 30.1 (1962): 75–88. Print.
Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. Print.
Cooper, Joel. Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory. London: SAGE, 2007. Print.
Cooper, Joel, and Russell H. Fazio. “A New Look at Dissonance Theory.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Ed. Leonard Berkowitz. Vol. 17. Orlando: Academic Press, 1984. 229–264. Print.
Coplan, Amy. “Empathic Engagement with Narrative Fictions.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 62.2 (2004): 141–152. Print.
Currie, Gregory. “The Paradox of Caring: Fiction and the Philosophy of Mind.” Emotion and the Arts. Ed. Mette Hjort & Sue Laver. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 63–77. Print.
Davis, Mark H. “Measuring Individual Differences in Empathy: Evidence for a Multidimensional Approach.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 44.1 (1983): 113–126. Print.
Eco, Umberto. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. Print.
Eder, Jens. “Narratology and Cognitive Reception Theories.” What Is Narratology? Questions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory. Ed. Tom Kind & Hans-Harald Müller. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003. 277–301. Print.
Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957. Print.
Fludernik, Monika. Towards a “Natural” Narratology. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Gaut, Berys. “Identification and Emotion in Narrative Film.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga & Greg M. Smith. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 200–216. Print.
Gavins, Joanna. “Scripts and Schemata.” Ed. David Herman, Manfred Jahn, & Marie-Laure Ryan. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory 2005 : 520–521. Print.
Gendler, Tamar Szabó. “The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.” The Journal of Philosophy 97.2 (2000): 55–81. Print.
Gerrig, Richard J. “Conscious and Unconscious Processes in Readers’ Narrative Experiences.” Current Trends in Narratology. Ed. Greta Olson. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2011. 37–60. Print.
Gibson, John. Fiction and the Weave of Life. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
Goodwin, Jan. Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.
Gruen, Rand J., and Gerald Mendelsohn. “Emotional Responses to Affective Displays in Others: The Distinction Between Empathy and Sympathy.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51.3 (1986): 609–614. Print.
Hakemulder, Jèmeljan. The Moral Laboratory: Experiments Examining the Effects of Reading Literature on Social Perception and Moral Self-Concept. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000. Print.
Herman, David. Basic Elements of Narrative. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.
---. “Introduction.” The Emergence of Mind: Representations of Consciousness in Narrative Discourse in English. Ed. David Herman. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. 1–40. Print.
---. Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. Print.
Van Heusden, Barend. “Semiotic Cognition and the Logic of Culture.” Pragmatics and Cognition 17.3 (2009): 611–627. Print.
Hite, Molly. “Tonal Cues and Uncertain Values: Affect and Ethics in Mrs. Dalloway.” Narrative 18.3 (2010): 249–275. Print.
Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970. Print.
Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Print.
Jackson, Tony E. “‘Literary Interpretation’ and Cognitive Literary Studies.” Poetics Today 24.2 (2003): 191–205. Print.
Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
Matravers, Derek. “Fictional Assent and the (So-Called) ‘Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance’.” Imagination, Philosophy, and the Arts. Ed. Matthew Kieran & Dominic Lopes. London: Routledge, 2003. 91–106. Print.
Miall, David S. Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang, 2006. Print.
Miller, George A. “The Cognitive Revolution: A Historical Perspective.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7.3 (2003): 141–144. Print.
Mokeddem, Malika. The Forbidden Woman. Trans. Karen Melissa Marcus. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Print.
Nussbaum, Martha Craven. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. Print.
Oatley, Keith. Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction. Malden, MA: Wiley, 2011. Print.
Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative: Volume 2. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin & David Pellauer. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Print.
Schütz, Alfred. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1967. Print.
Sklar, H. “Narrative Structuring of Sympathetic Response: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘The Hammer Man’.” Poetics Today 30.3 (2009): 561–607. Print.
Smith, Murray. Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. Print.
Sternberg, Meir. “Universals of Narrative and Their Cognitivist Fortunes (I).” Poetics Today 24.2 (2003): 297–395. Print.
Walton, Kendall. “On the (So-Called) Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance.” The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction. Ed. Shaun Nichols. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 137–148. Print.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Penguin, 2000. Print.