Contained in:
Book Chapter

Perché si muore nei romanzi: l’ipotesi della simulazione dell’ordalia

  • Olivier Morin
  • Alberto Acerbi
  • Oleg Sobchuk

What is fiction about, and what is it good for? An influential family of theories sees fiction as rooted in adaptive simulation mechanisms. In this view, our propensity to create and enjoy narrative fictions was selected and maintained due to the training that we get from mentally simulating situations relevant to our survival and reproduction. We put forward and test a precise version of this claim, the “ordeal simulation hypothesis”. It states that fictional narrative primarily simulates “ordeals”: situations where a person’s reaction might dramatically improve or decrease her fitness, such as deadly aggressions, or decisions on long-term matrimonial commitments. We study mortality in fictional and non-fictional texts as a partial test for this view. Based on an analysis of 744 extensive summaries of twentieth century American novels of various genres, we show that the odds of dying (in a given year) are vastly exaggerated in fiction compared to reality, but specifically more exaggerated for homicides as compared to suicides, accidents, war-related, or natural deaths. This evidence supports the ordeal simulation hypothesis but is also compatible with other accounts.

  • Keywords:
  • origin of fiction,
  • role of fiction,
  • narratology,
  • cultural evolution,
  • representation of death,
+ Show More

Olivier Morin

Max Planck institut, Germany - ORCID: 0000-0002-6216-1307

Alberto Acerbi

Brunel University, United Kingdom - ORCID: 0000-0001-5827-8003

Oleg Sobchuk

Max Planck institut, Germany - ORCID: 0000-0002-0793-4944

  1. Aristotele. 1996. Poetics. London: Penguin.
  2. Barrett, H. Clark, Christopher D. Peterson, and Willem E. Frankenhuis. 2016. “Mapping the cultural learnability landscape of danger.” Child. Dev. 87 (3): 770-81. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12495
  3. Barrett, H. Clark. 2015. “Adaptations to predators and prey.” In The handbook of evolutionary psychology, edited by David M. Buss, 1-18. New York: John Wiley & Sons. DOI: 10.1002/9781119125563.evpsych109
  4. Bates, Douglas, Martin Maechler, Ben Bolker, Steven Walker, Rune Christensen, Henrik Singmann, Bin Dai, et al. 2019. “Lme4: linear mixed-effects models using ‘Eigen’ and S4 (version 1.1-21).” <https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=lme4> (2023-02-02).
  5. Baumeister, Roy, Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer, and Kathleen Vohs. 2001. “Bad is stronger than good.” Rev. Gen. Psychol. 5 (4): 323-70.
  6. Bebbington, Keely, Colin MacLeod, Mark Ellison T., and Nicolas Fay. 2017. “The sky is falling: Evidence of a negativity bias in the social transmission of information.” Evol. Hum. Behav. 38 (1): 92-101. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2016.07.004
  7. Bietti, Lucas M., Ottilie Tilston, and Adrian Bangerter. 2018. “Storytelling as adaptive collective sensemaking.” Top. Cogn. Sci. DOI: 10.1111/tops.12358
  8. Blaine, Timothy, Pascal Boyer. 2018. “Origins of sinister rumors: A preference for threat-related material in the supply and demand of information.” Evol. Hum. Behav. 39 (1):67-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2017.10.001
  9. Boyd, Brian. 2009. On the origin of stories. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
  10. Boyer, Pascal, and Nora Parren. 2015. “Threat-related information suggests competence: a possible factor in the spread of rumors.” PLoS ONE 10 (6): e0128421. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128421
  11. Boyer, Pascal, and Pierre Liénard. 2006. “Why ritualized behavior? precaution systems and action parsing in developmental, pathological and cultural rituals.” Behav. Brain Sci. 29 (6): 595-613.
  12. Brown, Donald. 1991 Human universals. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
  13. Bruner, Jerome. 2004. “Life as narrative.” Soc. Res. 71 (3): 691-710.
  14. Camerer, Colin F., Anna Dreber, Feilx Holzmeister, Teck-Hua Ho, Jürgen Huber, Magnus Johannesson, Michael Kirchler, Gideon Nave, Brian A. Nosek, Thomas Pfeiffer et al. 2018. “Evaluating the replicability of social science experiments in nature and science between 2010 and 2015.” Nat. Hum. Behav. 2 (9): 637.
  15. Carroll, Joseph, Mathias Clasen, Emelie Jonsson, Alexandra R. Kratschmer, Luseadra J, McKerracher, Felix Riede, Jens-Christian Svenning, and Peter C. Kjaergaard. 2017. “Biocultural theory: The current state of knowledge.” Evolut Behav Sci 11(1): 1.
  16. Carroll, Joseph. 2011. Reading human nature: Literary Darwinism in theory and practice. New York: SUNY Press.
  17. Clasen, Mathias, Jens Kjeldgaard Christiansen, and John A. Johnson. 2018. “Horror, personality, and threat simulation: A survey on the psychology of scary media.” Evol. Behav. Sci. 14 (3): 213-30. DOI: 10.1037/ebs0000152
  18. Colman, Ian, Mila Kingsbury, Murray Weeks, Anushka Ataullahjan, Marc-André Bélair, Jennifer Dykxhoorn, Katie Hynes et al. 2014. “Cartoons kill: Casualties in animated recreational theater in an objective observational new study of kids’ introduction to loss of life.” BMJ 349 (December): g7184. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g7184
  19. Conroy, Pat. 1986. The prince of tides. New York: Dial Press Trade Paperback.
  20. Dissanayake, Ellen. 1979. “An ethological view of ritual and art in human evolutionary history.” Leonardo 12 (1): 27-31.
  21. Duntley, Joshua D., and David M. Buss. 2011. “Homicide adaptations.” Aggressive and Violent Behaviour. Evolutionary Approaches Explain Violence 16 (5): 399-410. DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2011.04.016
  22. Fessler, Daniel M.T. 2019. “Believing chicken little: Evolutionary perspectives on credulity and danger.” In DRUMS: Distortions, rumors, untruths, misinformation & smears, edited by Vasu Norman, Bemjamin Ang, and Shashi Jayakumar, 17-36. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.
  23. Fessler, Daniel M.T., Anne C. Pisor, and Carlos David Navarrete. 2014. “Negatively-biased credulity and the cultural evolution of beliefs.” PLoS ONE 9 (4): e95167. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095167
  24. Fry, Douglas P. 1990. “Play aggression among zapotec children: implications for the practice hypothesis.” Aggress. Behav. 16 (5): 321-40. DOI: 10.1002/1098-2337(1990)16:5o321::AID-AB248016050443.0.CO;2-D
  25. Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. 2017. “Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Results.” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. <http://www.healthdata.org/sites/default/files/files/Data_viz/GBD_2017_Tools_Overview.pdf> (2023-02-02).
  26. Goodman, Nelson. 1978). Ways of worldmaking. New York: Hackett Publishing Company.
  27. Gottschall, Jonathan. 2013. The storytelling animal: How stories make us human. Boston: Mariner Books.
  28. Kidd, David Comer, and Emanuele Castano. 2013. “Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind.” Science 342 (6156): 377-80.
  29. Lancy, David F. 1980. “Play in species adaptation.” Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 9: 471-95. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.09.100180.002351
  30. Mar, Raymond A., and Keith Oatley. 2008. “The function of fiction is the abstraction and simulation of social experience.” Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3 (3): 173-92. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00073.x
  31. Mascaro, Olivier, Olivier Morin, and Dan Sperber. 2017. “Optimistic expectations about communication explain children’s difficulties in hiding, lying, and mistrusting liars.” J. Child Lang. 44 (5): 1041-64. DOI: 10.1017/S0305000916000350
  32. McCauley, Clark. 1998. “When screen violence is not attractive.” In Why we watch: the attractions of violent entertainment, edited by Goldstein, Jeffrey, 144-63. New York: Oxford University Press.
  33. Mellmann, Katja. 2012. “Is storytelling a biological adaptation? Preliminary thoughts on how to pose that question.” In Telling stories. literature and evolution, edited by von Gansel, Carsten and Dirk Vanderbeke, 30-49. Berlin: De Gruyter (Spectrum Literaturwissenschaft 26).
  34. Mesoudi, Alex, Andrew Whiten, and Robin Dunbar. 2006. “A bias for social information in human cultural transmission.” Br. J. Psychol. 97 (3): 405-23. DOI: 10.1348/000712605X85871
  35. Morin, Olivier, and Alberto Acerbi. 2016. “Birth of the cool: a two-centuries decline in emotional expression in Anglophone fiction.” Cognition and Emotion 31 (8):1663-75.
  36. Nesse, Randolph M. 2001. “The smoke detector principle. Natural selection and the regulation of defensive responses.” Ann. New. Y. Acad. Sci. 935 (May): 75-85.
  37. Nettle, Daniel. 2005a. “The wheel of fire and the mating game: explaining the origins of tragedy and comedy.” J. Cult. Evolut. Psychol. 3: 39-56.
  38. Nettle, Daniel. 2005b. “What happens in Hamlet? Exploring the psychological foundations of drama.” In The literary animal: evolution and the nature of narrative, edited by Gottschall Jonathan, Wilson Edward Osborne, and Sloan Wilson David, 56-75. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  39. Oatley, Keith. 2011. Such stuff as dreams: the psychology of fiction. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  40. Oliver, Mary Beth. 1994. “Portrayals of crime, race, and aggression in ‘reality-Based’ police shows: A content analysis.” J. Broadcast. Electron. Media 38 (2): 179. DOI: 10.1080/08838159409364255
  41. Pennebaker, James W., Cindy K. Chung, Molly Ireland, Amy Gonzales, and Roger J. Booth. 2007. The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2007. Austin: University of Texas.
  42. Pennebaker, James W., Matthias R. Mehl, and Kate G. Niederhoffer. 2003. “Psychological aspects of natural language use: our words, our selves.” Annu. Rev. Psychol. 54 (1): 547-77. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145041
  43. Peskin, Joan. 1996. “Guise and guile: Children’s understanding of narratives in which the purpose of pretense is deception.” Child. Dev. 67 (4): 1735-51. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01824.x
  44. Piaget, Jean. 1999. Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. London: Psychology Press.
  45. Pinker, Steven. 2007. “Toward a consilient study of literature (Review of J. Gottschall & D. Sloan Wilson, The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative).” Philos. Lit. 31: 161-77.
  46. Pinker, Steven. 1997. How the mind works. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  47. Propp, Vladimir. 20102. Morphology of the folktale. Houston: University of Texas Press.
  48. Revonsuo, Antti, and KatjaValli. 2000. “Dreaming and consciousness: Testing the threat simulation theory of the function of dreaming.” Psyche 6 (8).
  49. Revonsuo, Antti. 2000. “The reinterpretation of dreams: an evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming.” Behav. Brain. Sci. 23 (6): 877-901.
  50. Rhind-Tutt, Stephen, Pat Lawry, and Ellen Lawrence E. 2001. North American women’s letters and diaries. Alexandria (VA): Alexander Street Publishing.
  51. Scalise Sugiyama, Michelle. 2001. “Food, foragers, and folklore: The role of narrative in human subsistence.” Evol. Hum. Behav. 22 (4): 221-40. DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(01)00063-0
  52. Scalise Sugiyama, Michelle. 2004. “Predation, narration, and adaptation: ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ revisited.” Interdiscip. Lit. Stud. 5 (2): 110-29.
  53. Stubbersfield Joseph M., Jamshid Tehrani, and Emma Flynn. 2015. “Serial killers, spiders and cybersex: social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends.” Br. J. Psychol. 106 (2): 288-307. DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12073
  54. Symons, Donald. 1978. Play and aggression: A study of rhesus monkeys. New York: Columbia University Press.
  55. Thompson, Kimberly M., and Kevin Haninger. 2001. “Violence in E-rated video games.” JAMA 286 (5): 591-98. DOI: 10.1001/jama.286.5.591
  56. Tooby, John, and Leda Cosmides. 2001. “Does beauty build adapted minds? toward an evolutionary theory of aesthetics, fiction, and the arts.” Substance 30 (1): 6-27.
  57. van Krieken, Kobie. 2018. “How reading narratives can improve our fitness to survive.” Narrat. Inq. 28 (1): 139-60. DOI: 10.1075/ni.17049.kri
  58. World Health Organisation. 2004. “The World Health Report 2004-changing history.” Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  59. Yokota, Fumie, Kimberly M. Thompson. 2000. “Violence in G-rated animated films.” JAMA 283 (20): 2716-20. DOI: 10.1001/jama.283.20.2716
  60. Zadra, Antonio, Sophie Desjardins, and Éric Marcotte. 2006. “Evolutionary function of dreams: A test of the threat simulation theory in recurrent dreams.” Conscious Cogn. 15 (2): 450-63. DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2005.02.002
  61. Zunshine, Lisa. 2006. Why we read fiction: Theory of mind and the novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
PDF
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Pages: 59-80
  • Content License: CC BY 4.0
  • © 2022 Author(s)

XML
  • Publication Year: 2022
  • Content License: CC BY 4.0
  • © 2022 Author(s)

Chapter Information

Chapter Title

Perché si muore nei romanzi: l’ipotesi della simulazione dell’ordalia

Authors

Olivier Morin, Alberto Acerbi, Oleg Sobchuk

Language

Italian

DOI

10.36253/979-12-215-0045-5.06

Peer Reviewed

Publication Year

2022

Copyright Information

© 2022 Author(s)

Content License

CC BY 4.0

Metadata License

CC0 1.0

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

La narrazione come incontro

Editors

Fabio Ciotti, Carmela Morabito

Peer Reviewed

Number of Pages

174

Publication Year

2022

Copyright Information

© 2022 Author(s)

Content License

CC BY 4.0

Metadata License

CC0 1.0

Publisher Name

Firenze University Press

DOI

10.36253/979-12-215-0045-5

ISBN Print

979-12-215-0044-8

eISBN (pdf)

979-12-215-0045-5

eISBN (epub)

979-12-215-0046-2

Series Title

Moderna/Comparata

Series ISSN

2704-5641

Series E-ISSN

2704-565X

86

Fulltext
downloads

133

Views

Export Citation

1,293

Open Access Books

in the Catalogue

1,734

Book Chapters

2,988,932

Fulltext
downloads

3,959

Authors

from 814 Research Institutions

of 63 Nations

59

scientific boards

from 326 Research Institutions

of 41 Nations

1,138

Referees

from 343 Research Institutions

of 36 Nations