Fiction, Genre Exposure, and Moral Reality

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Prior research has shown that there are parallels in the ways that people judge the possibility of extraordinary events, such as time travel, and the moral permissibility of extraordinary actions, such as a medical examiner dissecting his own mother’s body (Shtulman & Tong, 2013). One arena in which people frequently encounter extraordinary events and actions is that of fiction. The purpose of this research was to investigate the relationship, if any, between exposure to various literary genres and both moral and modal judgment. The Genre Familiarity Test (GFT), an author recognition checklist based on similar instruments (e.g., Stanovich & West, 1989), was developed to assess exposure to 7 different genres, including fantasy and science fiction. Exposure to genres was compared to scores on 2 tasks adapted from Shtulman and Tong (2013) tapping participants’ intuitions about physical possibility and moral permissibility. Results suggest that reading genre fiction is differentially related to both moral permissibility and physical possibility judgment, with strong evidence for distinct relationships between familiarity with Science Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Literary, and Romance genres and the 2 types of judgment.

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