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Effects of sensori-motor and emotional simulation on aesthetic appreciation of literary narratives


  • Marloes Mak, PhD student and main researcher
  • Dr Roel Willems, supervisor, Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen / Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University / Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Time frame

September 2016 - July 2021

Project description

In this project, insights from cognitive neuroscience, psychology and empirical literary studies are combined to study what people “see” while reading literature. Many readers have reported experiencing immersive stories as if they were actually “watching a movie in their heads”. From psychology, the question then arises whether these sensations during reading are purely due to language processing, or if other systems in the brain, such as motoric or perceptual systems, are also involved. The main question in this project therefore concerns if people “simulate” events described in stories, if all people do this in the same way, and if simulation has any connection to their subjective experiences (immersion in stories, appreciation). This is studied using a combination of self-report questionnaires, eye-tracking and brain imaging (fMRI).


Mental simulation, reading, literature, narratives, eye tracking, fMRI, imagery


Mak, M., & Willems, R.M. (in press). Mental Simulation during Literary Reading. In Kuiken, D., & Jacobs, A.M. (Eds.), Handbook of Empirical Literary Studies. Berlin: De Gruyter. Chapter doi: 10.1515/9783110645958-004

Mak, H.M.L., & Willems, R.M. (2021). Eyelit: Eye-movement and reader response data during literary reading. DANS-EASY [Dataset]. doi: 10.17026/dans-zqk-zmqs

Eekhof, L.S., Kuijpers, M.M., Faber, M., Gao, X., Mak, M., Van den Hoven, E., & Willems, R.M. (2021). Lost in a Story, Detached from the Words. Discourse Processes. doi: 10.1080/0163853X.2020.1857619

Mak, M., de Vries, C., & Willems, R. M. (2020). The Influence of Mental Imagery Instructions and Personality Characteristics on Reading Experiences. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1), 43. https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.281

Faber, M., Mak, M., & Willems, R.M. (2020). Word skipping as an indicator of individual reading style during literary reading. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 13 (3):2. doi: 10.16910/jemr.13.3.2

Mak, M., & Willems, R. M. (2018). Mental simulation during literary reading: Individual differences revealed with eye-tracking. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 34(4), 511–535. https://doi.org/10.1080/23273798.2018.1552007


NWO (Vidi-276-89-007)


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


Marloes Mak, marloes.mak@ru.nl