Does reading about fictional minds make us more curious about real ones?

Eekhof, L. S., & Mar, R. A. (2024). Does reading about fictional minds make us more curious about real ones? Language and Cognition, 16(1), 176-196. doi:10.1017/langcog.2023.30.
Although there is a large body of research assessing whether exposure to narratives boosts social cognition immediately afterward, not much research has investigated the underlying mechanism of this putative effect. This experiment investigates the possibility that reading a narrative increases social curiosity directly afterward, which might explain the short-term boosts in social cognition reported by some others. We developed a novel measure of state social curiosity and collected data from participants (N = 222) who were randomly assigned to read an excerpt of narrative fiction or expository nonfiction. Contrary to our expectations, we found that those who read a narrative exhibited less social curiosity afterward than those who read an expository text. This result was not moderated by trait social curiosity. An exploratory analysis uncovered that the degree to which texts present readers with social targets predicted less social curiosity. Our experiment demonstrates that reading narratives, or possibly texts with social content in general, may engage and fatigue social-cognitive abilities, causing a temporary decrease in social curiosity. Such texts might also temporarily satisfy the need for social connection, temporarily reducing social curiosity. Both accounts are in line with theories describing how narratives result in better social cognition over the long term.
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