Writer–Reader Contagion of Inspiration and Related States: Conditional Process Analyses Within a Cross-Classified Writer × Reader Framework
A longstanding tradition in the humanities holds that a writer’s inspiration is infectious, but this thesis has not been tested. We hypothesized that (a) inspiration is infectious, such that inspired writers are more inspiring to the average reader; (b) contagion is mediated by the insightfulness of the text; and (c) contagion is moderated by readers’ openness to experience, such that open readers are more prone to contagion. To test these hypotheses, a sample of 195 student writers, each of whom wrote 1 poem, was crossed with a sample of 220 student readers, who read all poems. Data were available for 36,020 cells of the resulting Writer × Reader matrix. Our analytic approach integrated cross-classified multilevel modeling with conditional process analysis. As hypothesized, writers who were more inspired elicited higher levels of inspiration in the average reader. Inspiration contagion was mediated by the insightfulness and pleasantness of the text and was partially suppressed by originality. Inspiration contagion was moderated by reader openness. Moderated mediation analyses indicated that open readers were prone to contagion because they were tolerant of the originality and sublimity of inspired writing. Additional analyses differentiated contagion of inspiration from contagion of its covariates (awe, positive affect), documented effects of writer inspiration on reader enthrallment (awe, chills), and showed that writer effort is a poor predictor of reader states. The infectiousness of inspiration—through poetry, if not also through scripture and academic writing—suggests that a given instance of inspiration may have far-reaching cultural implications, including dissemination of innovations and ideologies.