Imagining crawling home: A case study in cognitive science and aesthetics

Abstract
Philosophical accounts of narrative fiction can be loosely divided into two types. Participant accounts argue that some sort of simulation, or 1st person perspective taking plays a critical role in our engagement with narratives. Observer accounts argue to the contrary that we primarily engage narrative fictions from a 3rd person point of view, as either side participants or outside observers. Recent psychological research suggests a means to evaluate this debate. The perception of distance and slope is influenced by the energetic (e.g., task difficulty) and emotional (e.g., anxiety) costs of actions. These effects are limited to increases in the costs of actions agents intend to perform themselves, generalize to cases where participants imagine acting, and demonstrate a role for tacit motor simulation in action planning. If participant accounts are sound, one should, therefore, find similar effects across changes in the interpretation of the costs of actions depicted in static images. We asked people to copy the rough spatial layout of two paintings across different interpretations of the costs of the actions they depicted. We predicted that increasing costs would cause participants to draw distances as longer and hills as steeper. Our results confirm this prediction for the energetic, but not the emotional, costs of actions.
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