One of our core projects is to explore narratives by means of story retelling in experimentally controlled conditions by using serial reproduction. The goal is to establish the basic narrative patterns that emerge when people retell stories and to examine how these patterns influence preferences, choices, and decisions.
The basic concept of serial reproduction is simple. Participants in the experiments are asked to retell short stories “in their own words” (Kashima 2000). The resulting stories are passed on to another participant, who will again retell it, and so on. After several generations of retellings, the retellings accumulate quite a few changes. The idea is that the series of retellings leads to a basic or “stereotypical” form (as Frederic Bartlett called it when he pioneered this approach in 1932) that is best suited for comprehension, communication, and memory.
Here are some of our initial findings and hypotheses
1) In retelling, people pay attention to the core information. They also try to preserve the affect of the original story as a goal for retelling.
2) Retelling is influenced by several factors that are neutral to the information content of the original story, such as first or third person narratives.
The link between stories and empathy is strong. People are more likely to engage with another when they are presented with a narrative about the fate of the other. What are the precise triggers for empathy, and why are narratives so well suited for empathy?
In our experiments, we study different narrative stimuli of empathy. One trigger can be side taking. When we observe a conflict by two others, we are likely to mentally choose a side. After choosing a side, we tend to take the perspective of the chosen side and begin to experience the situation from their standpoint. Empathy is now possible–perhaps partly to justify our choice.
ve stimuli of empathy. One trigger can be side taking. When we observe a conflict by two others, we are likely to mentally choose a side. After choosing a side, we tend to take the perspective of the chosen side and begin to experience the situation from their standpoint. Empathy is now possible --partly perhaps to justify our choice of taking a side.
Many scholars define ‘narrative’ as a sequence of events presented in linguistic form. We would like to add one feature to this idea, namely the idea that narratives take place in people’s heads. It is in this mental space that narratives create doubt, suspense, or suspicion: we wonder what will happen or whether things could be explained differently. In other words, each narrative exists in several versions simultaneously, as multiple versions in our head.
Jerome Bruner expressed this idea in the following way:
What is a narrative? . . . A narrative involves a sequence of events. The sequence carries the meaning . . . But not every sequence of events is worth recounting. Narrative is discourse, and the prime rule of discourse is that there be a reason for it that distinguishes it from silence. Narrative … tells about something unexpected, or something that one's auditor has reason to doubt. The "point" of the narrative is to resolve the unexpected, to settle the auditor's doubt, or in some manner to redress or explicate the "imbalance" that prompted the telling of the story in the first place. A story, then, has two sides to it: a sequence of events, and an implied evaluation of the events recounted. (Bruner, 1996: 121)
In our lab, we focus on the “doubt” that is part of narratives. This is one of the reasons we look at narrative events, excuses, and alibis.
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Thanks for your interest in our research. Get in touch with us for any questions or comments regarding our work and publications. We’d love to hear from you.
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA