Evolutionary Theory of Fiction

The age of “politically charged” analyses of literature has passed and the latest phase is that of analysing fiction through the lens of evolutionary psychology, looking at how the brain processes literature.

Humans can comfortably keep track of three different mental states at a time, Ms. Zunshine said. For example, the proposition “Peter said that Paul believed that Mary liked chocolate” is not too hard to follow. Add a fourth level, though, and it’s suddenly more difficult. And experiments have shown that at the fifth level understanding drops off by 60 percent, Ms. Zunshine said. Modernist authors like Virginia Woolf are especially challenging because she asks readers to keep up with six different mental states, or what the scholars call levels of intentionality.

It’s a short article, and left me wanting more. More will no doubt come when this field matures.

via Arts and Letters Daily