EMCO - Emotion(s), cognition, comportement

Fiction in Emotion – FICTION

Fiction in Emotion

The “semantic emotions” hypothesis. <br /> <br />FICTION brings together a philosopher and a cognitive neuroscientist to test the hypothesis that “semantic emotions” are elicited when fictional scenes are recognized as such.

A neurocognitive model of the philosophical paradox of fiction

For over forty years, philosophers have struggled with the “paradox of fiction”, which is the issue of how we can get emotionally involved with fictional characters and events. What is the nature of sadness or joy which is not tied to a real personal loss or satisfaction? The FICTION project addresses this issue with the aim of understanding the nature of our emotional responses to fictional scenes and their dependence on the cognitive background. <br />Empirical evidence suggest that involvement with fiction as such is associated with a disengagement or inhibition of the episodic system involving limbic structures such as the hippocampus, which underlies episodic experiences (either memory of personal events or self-projections into the future), to the benefit of other cerebral areas implicated in semantic processes such as fronto-temporal areas. Moreover, the episodic system is arguably an essential component of the emotional responses towards real people and events. On that basis, our main hypothesis, to be assessed at both conceptual and empirical levels, is that emotional responses towards fictional scenes identified as such are what we call “semantic emotions”, a species of emotions to be distinguished from real-life emotions. On our view, “semantic emotions” are emotional experiences that disengage the episodic system, and are mainly modulated by semantic circuits (whence our terminological choice). <br />FICTION goal is, at the experimental level, to identify the neuro-functional correlates of emotions towards fictional scenes and, at the theoretical level, to understand the impact of the “semantic emotions” hypothesis on the philosophical paradox of fiction, as well as in the philosophy of mind, the psychology and philosophy of emotions.

At the neuroscientific level, visual stimuli, selected from news broadcast, documentaries, “mockumentaries” and fiction films, have been validated in two studies. On that basis, scenes with a high emotional value have been selected and used to carry out a first behavioural study coupled with physiological measurements. Selection of stimuli and experimental protocols have been done in close collaboration of the neuroscientific and philosophical teams of FICTION. Other behavioural studies and a neuroimaging experiment will test the neuro-functional correlates of “semantic emotions”.

At the philosophical level, a monthly seminar (“FILE”) and international workshops have been and will be organized in order to study the “semantic emotions” hypothesis in the domain of the philosophy of fiction, the psychology and philosophy of emotions and the philosophy of mind. The FILE seminar and the workshops will bring together researchers in the field of philosophy and neuroscience.

Our preliminary results show that the intensity of positive and negative emotional scenes is explicitly judged in the same way by both groups of subjects to which the scenes are presented either as real or as fictional. By contrast, implicit measures of emotional response (skin conductance) suggest that only for the “fiction group” negative scenes elicit a more intense response than positive scenes.

In the psychological domain FICTION could have an important impact in the psychology of emotions, if the results show that subjects react differently to real and fictional situations. FICTION opens also new research perspectives in the clinical domain for patients affected by different forms of emotional deregulation (i.e., schizophrenia and autism).
In the philosophical domain FICTION could have a decisive influence in the debates about the paradox of fiction, the cognitive penetrability of emotions and the different forms of self-engagement in emotions.
At the societal level FICTION could have an important impact since its hypothesis concerns vast populations that enjoy engaging with fictions and being thrust into various emotional states.

[Under construction] creation of a free access data base of our validated scenes on the website of the project (www.ave-fiction.ens.fr) to get them available to the scientific community.
Publication: J. Pelletier 2012. Les émotions sont-elles sensib

Fictions of all kinds (involving images, novels, plays, operas, ballets, movies) generate a rich fund of emotional experience in a large audience. For over forty years, aestheticians have struggled with the “paradox of fiction”, which is the issue of how we can get emotionally involved with fictional characters and events. What is the nature of sadness or joy which is not tied to a real personal loss or satisfaction? The FICTION project addresses this issue with the aim of understanding the nature of our emotional responses and their dependence on the cognitive background.

Empirical evidence suggests that involvement with fiction as such is associated with a disengagement or inhibition of the episodic system involving limbic structures such as the hippocampus, which underlies episodic experiences (either memory of personal events or self-projections into the future), to the benefit of other cerebral areas implicated in semantic processes such as fronto-temporal areas. Moreover, the episodic system is arguably an essential component of the emotional responses towards real people and events. On that basis, our main hypothesis, to be assessed at both conceptual and empirical levels, is that emotional responses towards fictional scenes identified as such are what we call “semantic emotions”, a species of emotions to be distinguished from real-life emotions. On our view, “semantic emotions” are emotional experiences that disengage the episodic system, and are mainly modulated by semantic circuits (whence our terminological choice). We surmise that “semantic emotions” are stirred up by emotional fictional scenes as soon as they are recognized as fictional.

On the conceptual level, FICTION aims at offering contributions to both general philosophy of mind and aesthetics. First, FICTION will focus on the claim that “semantic emotions” form a psychological natural kind. FICTION will assess the hypothesis that even if “semantic emotions” are characterized at the sub-personal level by a disengagement or inhibition of the episodic system, they are unique experiences at the personal level of the conscious subject. Second, the implications of this claim to philosophical aesthetics will be explored. We suspect that this new concept of emotions provides a new way of looking at the paradox of fiction, by bridging the gap between issues about the role of the self in our interactions with fiction and issues about the nature of our emotional responses to fiction.

On the empirical level, FICTION will elaborate protocols in experimental psychology and neuroscience to understand the processes at the root of emotional responses to fictional and non-fictional type-identical scenes, and the role of the awareness of the fictional or non-fictional aspect of the scene in these processes. By exploiting the capabilities provided by SenseCam, a wearable digital camera, FICTION will recreate in the lab the conditions of emotional encoding. FICTION will have participants wearing SenseCam while viewing clips of fictional scenes of various emotional valences, as well as viewing type-identical non-fictional scenes in natural environments. FICTION will then investigate the impact of fictional content on emotional processing and the neural correlates of “semantic emotions” by conducting a fMRI study to measure brain networks activated in response to images shot in these various conditions.

FICTION is the first scientific project to put forward the “semantic emotions” hypothesis, to operationalize this hypothesis and to construe as “semantic emotions” at least some of the emotions that can be enjoyed in fictional contexts. FICTION has wide applications since its hypothesis concerns vast populations who, engaged with fictions, enjoy being thrust into various emotional “semantic states” without paying the neural episodic price that the non-fictional analogues of these states would require.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Pelletier JÉRÔME (Institut Jean-Nicod) – jerome.pelletier@ehess.fr

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

LPNCog Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neuropsychologie Cognitives
IJN Institut Jean-Nicod

Help of the ANR 294,934 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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