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Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Aug;20(8):618-628. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002. Epub 2016 Jul 19.

Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds.

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Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ONT M5S 1V6, Canada. Electronic address:


Fiction is the simulation of selves in interaction. People who read it improve their understanding of others. This effect is especially marked with literary fiction, which also enables people to change themselves. These effects are due partly to the process of engagement in stories, which includes making inferences and becoming emotionally involved, and partly to the contents of fiction, which include complex characters and circumstances that we might not encounter in daily life. Fiction can be thought of as a form of consciousness of selves and others that can be passed from an author to a reader or spectator, and can be internalized to augment everyday cognition.


consciousness; empathy; inference; mental models; reading


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