Why humans (most of them, and certainly all those around me) enjoy fictional stories in one form or the other - novels, films, theater performances?

The starting assumption is that there must be an evolutionary advantage to it. Related, might be the question of why humans do and enjoy music.

Why don't we stick to hard facts, true stories and the like?

  • $\begingroup$ The "fiction may be twice as true as fact" makes sense to me. A writer contrives fiction to make a point that didn't occur in fact. A well-crafted point can hit home with readers, who like the story if that contrived fiction strikes a chord with them. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2015 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ Can we truly tell if something is fact or fiction? When we read science fiction books from the past, we find numerous true predictions. In the time when the book was written, it was fiction, but today it is fact. Perhaps the books sparked an idea, then science made it reality. Or if it's a fantasy book, how do we know that it didn't truly happen? Perhaps there really are fairies, I just haven't been lucky enough to see one and those who have would rather not say in case people think they're crazy. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2015 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


According to the article "A feeling for fiction: becoming what we behold" (Miall and Kuikan, 2002), suggest 4 levels of how reading stories/fiction affect us:

The first is a satisfaction and enjoyment

are reactions to an already interpreted text

The second level is when the feelings and engagement start kicking in:

feelings such as empathy or sympathy with an author, narrator, or narrative figure are involved in the interpretive processes by which a representation of the fictional world is developed and engaged

So, in this second stage, we are starting to get 'drawn in' to this fictional world.

The third level involves

feelings of fascination, interest, or intrigue are an initial moment in readers’ response to the formal components of literary texts (narrative, stylistic, or generic).

Now, these first 3 levels are more or less aesthetic, it is the fourth level (and the focus of the linked paper) that links the aesthetic and narrative feelings together that

interact to produce metaphors of personal identification that modify self-understanding. We also argue that the concept of catharsis (the conflict of tragic feelings identified by Aristotle) identifies one particular form of a more general pattern in which aesthetic and narrative feelings evoked during reading interact to modify the reader.

This last point is also discussed in the article "Why fiction may be twice as true as fact: Fiction as cognitive and emotional stimulation" (Oatley, 1999) with the statement:

in the simulations of fiction, personal truths can be explored that allows readers to experience emotions - their own emotions - and understand aspects of them that are obscure, in relation to the contexts in which the emotions arise.

From that, fiction is not just 'escapism' and affects us on psychological and cognitive levels beyond aesthetic levels. This would be true for any form of fiction, and potentially for music and visual art.

A possible evolutionary advantage is that this type of activity takes us away from the 'here and now' to places that we have never known, yet (according to the articles) have a sense of familiarity for us, emotionally and cognitively.


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