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Journal Article

Reading minds, reading stories: Social-cognitive abilities affect the linguistic processing of narrative viewpoint


Willems,  Roel M.
Center for Language Studies, External Organizations;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Eekhof, L. S., Van Krieken, K., Sanders, J., & Willems, R. M. (2021). Reading minds, reading stories: Social-cognitive abilities affect the linguistic processing of narrative viewpoint. Frontiers in Psychology, 12: 698986. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.698986.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-6598-A
Although various studies have shown that narrative reading draws on social-cognitive abilities, not much is known about the precise aspects of narrative processing that engage these abilities. We hypothesized that the linguistic processing of narrative viewpoint—expressed by elements that provide access to the inner world of characters—might play an important role in engaging social-cognitive abilities. Using eye tracking, we studied the effect of lexical markers of perceptual, cognitive, and emotional viewpoint on eye movements during reading of a 5,000-word narrative. Next, we investigated how this relationship was modulated by individual differences in social-cognitive abilities. Our results show diverging patterns of eye movements for perceptual viewpoint markers on the one hand, and cognitive and emotional viewpoint markers on the other. Whereas the former are processed relatively fast compared to non-viewpoint markers, the latter are processed relatively slow. Moreover, we found that social-cognitive abilities impacted the processing of words in general, and of perceptual and cognitive viewpoint markers in particular, such that both perspective-taking abilities and self-reported perspective-taking traits facilitated the processing of these markers. All in all, our study extends earlier findings that social cognition is of importance for story reading, showing that individual differences in social-cognitive abilities are related to the linguistic processing of narrative viewpoint.