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Reading the Mind: the influence of story and reader characteristics on the empathic potential of stories


Time frame

September 2018 - August 2023

Project description

This project investigates the involvement of social-cognitive processes, such as empathy and theory of mind, during story reading. A unique aspect of stories is that they provide us with a glimpse inside the head of a fictional other through the use of linguistic viewpoint techniques. Interestingly, previous research has shown that the same social-cognitive processes that people use to make sense of the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of real others, also play a role when reading stories. Moreover, some research has found that exposure to stories can increase these abilities. What is not clear however, is which linguistic characteristics of stories activate these social-cognitive processes, and how readers differ in how they susceptible they are for the social-cognitive potential of stories. Therefore, central questions in this project are: which linguistic characteristics of stories activate social-cognitive processes in readers? Which individual differences between readers play a role in the social-cognitive and linguistic processing of stories? And how can exposure to stories ultimately make a positive contribution to socio-cognitive skills?


Narrative, social cognition, perspective, viewpoint, empathy, theory of mind


Eekhof, L. S., van Krieken, K., Sanders, J., & Willems, R. M. (2021). Reading Minds, Reading Stories: Social-Cognitive Abilities Affect the Linguistic Processing of Narrative Viewpoint. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 4195. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.698986 

Eekhof, L. S., van Krieken, K., & Willems, R. M. (2022). Reading about minds: The social-cognitive potential of narratives. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-022-02079-z 

Eekhof, L. S., Van Krieken, K., & Sanders, J. (2020). VPIP: A Lexical Identification Procedure for Perceptual, Cognitive, and Emotional Viewpoint in Narrative Discourse. Open Library of Humanities, 6(1), 18. https://doi.org/10.16995/olh.483


This project is internally funded by the Centre for Language Studies


  • Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University
  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics


Lynn Eekhof, lynn.eekhof@ru.nl