Reading fiction and reading minds: the role of simulation in the default network.
ABSTRACT: Research in psychology has suggested that reading fiction can improve individuals' social-cognitive abilities. Findings from neuroscience show that reading and social cognition both recruit the default network, a network which is known to support our capacity to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces and mental states. The current research tests the hypothesis that fiction reading enhances social cognition because it serves to exercise the default subnetwork involved in theory of mind. While undergoing functional neuroimaging, participants read literary passages that differed along two dimensions: (i) vivid vs abstract and (ii) social vs non-social. Analyses revealed distinct subnetworks of the default network respond to the two dimensions of interest: the medial temporal lobe subnetwork responded preferentially to vivid passages, with or without social content; the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) subnetwork responded preferentially to passages with social and abstract content. Analyses also demonstrated that participants who read fiction most often also showed the strongest social cognition performance. Finally, mediation analysis showed that activity in the dmPFC subnetwork in response to the social content mediated this relation, suggesting that the simulation of social content in fiction plays a role in fiction's ability to enhance readers' social cognition.
Project description:Background & Aims:Anecdotal evidence suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prefer non-fiction books over fiction books. The current study was the first to investigate parent-reports of children with ASD's fiction and non-fiction book preferences and whether these relate to individual differences in social communication, oral language, and/or reading abilities. Method:Children (ages 8-14 years, M = 10.89, SD = 1.17) with ASD diagnoses (n = 19) and typically developing (TD) peers (n = 21) participated. Children completed standardized measures of social communication, oral language, and reading abilities. Parents reported children's current favorite book, and from these responses, we coded children's fiction versus non-fiction book preferences. Main Contribution:Contrary to anecdotal evidence, children with ASD preferred fiction similar to their TD peers. Fiction versus non-fiction book preference was significantly related to social communication abilities across both groups. Children's oral language and reading abilities were related, as expected, but the evidence for a relationship between social communication and reading comprehension was mixed. Conclusions:This study provides preliminary evidence supporting the association of social communication in fiction versus non-fiction book preference, which may be related to children's comprehension and support the theoretical role of social communication knowledge in narrative/fiction. Implications:It should not be assumed that all children with ASD prefer expository/non-fiction or do not read narrative/fiction. Children who prefer non-fiction may need additional social communication knowledge support to improve their understanding of narrative fiction.
Project description:The ability to attribute mental states to others, or "mentalizing," is posited to involve specific subnetworks within the overall default mode network (DMN), but this question needs clarification. To determine which default mode (DM) subnetworks are engaged by mentalizing processes, we assessed task-related recruitment of DM subnetworks. Spatial independent component analysis (sICA) applied to fMRI data using relatively high-order model (75 components). Healthy participants (n?=?53, ages 17-60) performed two fMRI tasks: an interactive game involving mentalizing (Domino), a semantic memory task (SORT), and a resting state fMRI scan. sICA of the two tasks split the DMN into 10 subnetworks located in three core regions: medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC; five subnetworks), posterior cingulate/precuneus (PCC/PrC; three subnetworks), and bilateral temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Mentalizing events increased recruitment in five of 10 DM subnetworks, located in all three core DMN regions. In addition, three of these five DM subnetworks, one dmPFC subnetwork, one PCC/PrC subnetwork, and the right TPJ subnetwork, showed reduced recruitment by semantic memory task events. The opposing modulation by the two tasks suggests that these three DM subnetworks are specifically engaged in mentalizing. Our findings, therefore, suggest the unique involvement of mentalizing processes in only three of 10 DM subnetworks, and support the importance of the dmPFC, PCC/PrC, and right TPJ in mentalizing as described in prior studies.
Project description:Moderate-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) may result in difficulty with emotion recognition, which has negative implications for social functioning. As aspects of social cognition have been linked to resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) in the default mode network (DMN), we sought to determine whether DMN connectivity strength predicts emotion recognition and level of social integration in TBI. To this end, we examined emotion recognition ability of 21 individuals with TBI and 27 healthy controls in relation to RSFC between DMN regions. Across all participants, decreased emotion recognition ability was related to increased connectivity between dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and temporal regions (temporal pole and parahippocampal gyrus). Furthermore, within the TBI group, connectivity between dmPFC and parahippocampal gyrus predicted level of social integration on the Community Integration Questionnaire, an important index of post-injury social functioning in TBI. This finding was not explained by emotion recognition ability, indicating that DMN connectivity predicts social functioning independent of emotion recognition. These results advance our understanding of the neural underpinnings of emotional and social processes in both healthy and injured brains, and suggest that RSFC may be an important marker of social outcomes in individuals with TBI.
Project description:The end of deep reading is a commonplace in public debates, whenever societies talk about youth, books, and the digital age. In contrast to this, we show for the first time and in detail, how intensively young readers write and comment literary texts at an unprecedented scale. We present several analyses of how fiction is transmitted through the social reading platform Wattpad, one of the largest platforms for user-generated stories, including novels, fanfiction, humour, classics, and poetry. By mixed quantitative and qualitative methods and scalable reading we scrutinise texts and comments on Wattpad, what themes are preferred in 13 languages, what role does genre play for readers behaviour, and what kind of emotional engagement is prevalent when young readers share stories. Our results point out the rise of a global reading culture in youth reading besides national preferences for certain topics and genres, patterns of reading engagement, aesthetic values and social interaction. When reading Teen Fiction social-bonding (affective interaction) is prevalent, when reading Classics social-cognitive interaction (collective intelligence) is prevalent. An educational outcome suggests that readers who engage in Teen Fiction learn to read Classics and to judge books not only in direct emotional response to character's behaviour, but focusing more on contextualised interpretation of the text.
Project description:The default mode network (DMN) is engaged in a variety of cognitive settings, including social, semantic, temporal, spatial, and self-related tasks. Andrews-Hanna et al. (2010; Andrews-Hanna 2012) proposed that the DMN consists of three distinct functional-anatomical subsystems-a dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dMPFC) subsystem that supports social cognition; a medial temporal lobe (MTL) subsystem that contributes to memory-based scene construction; and a set of midline core hubs that are especially involved in processing self-referential information. We examined activity in the DMN subsystems during six different tasks: 1) theory of mind, 2) moral dilemmas, 3) autobiographical memory, 4) spatial navigation, 5) self/other adjective judgment, and 6) a rest condition. At a broad level, we observed similar whole-brain activity maps for the six contrasts, and some response to every contrast in each of the three subsystems. In more detail, both univariate analysis and multivariate activity patterns showed partial functional separation, especially between dMPFC and MTL subsystems, though with less support for common activity across the midline core. Integrating social, spatial, self-related, and other aspects of a cognitive situation or episode, multiple components of the DMN may work closely together to provide the broad context for current mental activity.
Project description:Social functioning depends on the ability to attribute and reason about the mental states of others--an ability known as theory of mind (ToM). Research in this field is limited by the use of tasks in which ceiling effects are ubiquitous, rendering them insensitive to individual differences in ToM ability and instances of subtle ToM impairment. Here, we present data from a new ToM task--the Short Story Task (SST)--intended to improve upon many aspects of existing ToM measures. More specifically, the SST was designed to: (a) assess the full range of individual differences in ToM ability without suffering from ceiling effects; (b) incorporate a range of mental states of differing complexity, including epistemic states, affective states, and intentions to be inferred from a first- and second-order level; (c) use ToM stimuli representative of real-world social interactions; (d) require participants to utilize social context when making mental state inferences; (e) exhibit adequate psychometric properties; and (f) be quick and easy to administer and score. In the task, participants read a short story and were asked questions that assessed explicit mental state reasoning, spontaneous mental state inference, and comprehension of the non-mental aspects of the story. Responses were scored according to a rubric that assigned greater points for accurate mental state attributions that included multiple characters' mental states. Results demonstrate that the SST is sensitive to variation in ToM ability, can be accurately scored by multiple raters, and exhibits concurrent validity with other social cognitive tasks. The results support the effectiveness of this new measure of ToM in the study of social cognition. The findings are also consistent with studies demonstrating significant relationships among narrative transportation, ToM, and the reading of fiction. Together, the data indicate that reading fiction may be an avenue for improving ToM ability.
Project description:Unaffected first-degree relatives of individuals with schizophrenia (i.e., those at familial high-risk [FHR]), demonstrate social dysfunction qualitatively similar though less severe than that of their affected relatives. These social difficulties may be the consequence of genetically conferred disruption to aspects of the default mode network (DMN), such as the dMPFC subsystem, which overlaps with the network of brain regions recruited during social cognitive processes. In the present study, we investigate this possibility, testing DMN connectivity and its relationship to social functioning in FHR using resting-state fMRI. Twenty FHR individuals and 17 controls underwent fMRI during a resting-state scan. Hypothesis-driven functional connectivity analyses examined ROI-to-ROI correlations between the DMN's hubs, and regions of the dMPFC subsystem and MTL subsystem. Connectivity values were examined in relationship to a measure of social functioning and empathy/perspective-taking. Results demonstrate that FHR exhibit reduced connectivity specifically within the dMPFC subsystem of the DMN. Certain ROI-to-ROI correlations predicted aspects of social functioning and empathy/perspective-taking across all participants. Together, the data indicate that disruption to the dMPFC subsystem of the DMN may be associated with familial risk for schizophrenia, and that these intrinsic connections may carry measurable consequences for social functioning.
Project description:Humans can vividly recall and re-experience events from their past, and these are commonly referred to as episodic or autobiographical memories. fMRI experiments reliably associate autobiographical event recall with activity in a network of "default" or "core" brain regions. However, as prior studies have relied on covert (silent) recall procedures, current understanding may be hampered by methodological limitations that obscure dynamic effects supporting moment-to-moment content retrieval. Here, fMRI participants (<i>N</i> = 40) overtly (verbally) recalled memories for ?2 min periods. The content of spoken descriptions was categorized using a variant of the Autobiographical Interview (AI) procedure (Levine et al., 2002) and temporally re-aligned with BOLD data so activity accompanying the recall of different details could be measured. Replicating prior work, sustained effects associated with autobiographical recall periods (which are insensitive to the moment-to-moment content of retrieval) fell primarily within canonical default network regions. Spoken descriptions were rich in episodic details, frequently focusing on physical entities, their ongoing activities, and their appearances. Critically, neural activity associated with recalling specific details (e.g., those related to people or places) was transient, broadly distributed, and grounded in category-selective cortex (e.g., regions related to social cognition or scene processing). Thus, although a single network may generally support the process of vivid event reconstruction, the structures required to provide detail-related information shift in a predictable manner that respects domain-level representations across the cortex.<b>SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT</b> Humans can vividly recall memories of autobiographical episodes, a process thought to involve the reconstruction of numerous distinct event details. Yet how the brain represents a complex episode as it unfolds over time remains unclear and appears inconsistent across experimental traditions. One hurdle is the use of covert (silent) in-scanner recall to study autobiographical memory, which prevents experimenter knowledge of what information is being retrieved, and when, throughout the remembering process. In this experiment, participants overtly described autobiographical memories while undergoing fMRI. Activity associated with the recall and description of specific details was transient, broadly distributed, and grounded in category-selective cortex. Thus, it appears that as events unfold mentally, structures are dynamically reactivated to support vivid recollection.
Project description:Reminders of mortality influence human social cognition, but whether and how reminders of mortality affect brain activity underlying social cognition remains unclear. To test whether increasing mortality salience modulates neural responses to others' suffering, we scanned healthy adults who viewed video clips showing others in pain using functional magnetic resonance imaging. One group of participants were primed to increase mortality salience and another group were primed with negative affect in terms of fear/anxiety. We found that perceiving painful vs non-painful stimuli in the pre-priming session activated the midcingulate/dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MCC/dMPFC), bilateral anterior insula/inferior frontal cortex, bilateral secondary somatosensory cortex and left middle temporal gyrus. However, MCC/dMPFC activity in response to perceived pain in others was significantly decreased in the post-priming session by the mortality salience priming, but was not influenced by the negative affect priming. Moreover, subjective fear of death induced by the priming procedures mediated the change in MCC/dMPFC activity across the priming procedures. Subjective fear of death also moderated the co-variation of MCC/dMPFC and left insular activity during perception of others in pain. Our findings indicate that reminders of mortality decrease neural responses to others' suffering and this effect is mediated by the subjective fear of death.
Project description:Science fiction includes many dystopian narratives, often featuring epidemics, pandemics, plagues, viruses, and disease. As science fiction has grown in popularity and prevalence it appeals to an increasingly broad demographic, is employed in research communication and education, and as a genre it is frequently argued that it reflects contemporary cultural interests and concerns. To identify the relevance of science fiction as an indicator of popular trends relating to the pathologies of disease, a word frequency comparison of selected key words found in the Google Books 2012 English Corpus has been made to a representative corpus of science fiction magazines dating between 1926 and 2015. Selected issues were reviewed to identify concepts, situations, and outcomes that could readily be measured against real-world examples from current and recent pandemics. The findings indicate that science fiction does appear to mirror and magnify contemporary literary trends, and provides potentially revealing correlations to real-world historical events. In this regard, science fiction might be regarded as a form of ‘cultural pathology’ of popular interests related to the spread and impact of disease that may be valuable in gauging the degree to which society is engaged with these topics at any specific time. Highlights (up to 5) • Science fiction topics tend to reflect real-world historical events.• Comparison of English corpus Google Books word frequencies to science fiction.• Science fiction investigates social, cultural and psychological concerns.• Science fiction content indicates a ‘cultural pathology’ of popular interests.