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Sikora, S., Kuiken, D., and Miall, D. S.. (in press). An uncommon resonance: The influence of loss on expressive reading. Empirical Studies of the Arts.
Miall, D. S. (in press, a). Literature, empirical study of. In Patrick Hogan, Ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Published papers and books
Miall, D. S. (2009). Neuroaesthetics of literary reading. In Martin Skov & Oshin Vartanian (Eds.), Neuroaesthetics (pp. 233-247). New York: Baywood.
Miall, D. S. (2008b). Foregrounding and feeling in response to narrative. In Sonia Zyngier, Marisa Bortolussi, Anna Chesnokova, & Jan Auracher (Eds.), Directions in Empirical Literary Studies: Essays in Honor of Willie van Peer(pp. 131-144). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Miall, D. S. (2008a). Feeling from the perspective of the empirical study of literature. Journal of Literary Theory, 377-393.
Miall, D. S. (2007). Foregrounding and the sublime: Shelley in Chamonix. Language and Literature, 16, 155-168.
Commentators have spoken of the moment of sublime experience as one of amazement, of being overwhelmed by the strikingness of the sublime appearance. The sublime, in other words, is an effect of defamiliarization. If a poet is to embody the sublime experience in language (i.e., in the poetic sublime), we would expect the resources of linguistic foregrounding to be central to this effort. The defamiliarizing moment is, of course, central to the modern conception of the response to foregrounding. It is thus also at the heart of response to the sublime. In this paper I consider the resources of foregrounding called upon by Shelley in his letter from Chamonix and his poem 'Mont Blanc,' and suggest that these enable us as readers to enact his experience through striking figurative, phonetic, and metrical features. I focus on four features: the sense of defamiliarization; disrupted or unusual syntax; the senses being under pressure; and figures that suggest a merging of mind and nature. In particular, I develop a conception of the ecological significance of the sublime scene, showing how Shelley creates an ethical view of Mont Blanc through three concepts that I term presence, community, and autonomy.
Miall, D. S. (2006). Empirical approaches to studying literary readers: The state of the discipline. Book History, 9, 291-311.
The value of examining literariness in the light of empirical studies of reading is argued, calling into question assumptions about the ubiquity of interpretation, and the precedence of conventions in shaping reading. To demonstrate research method several empirical studies are described in detail. The value of empirical study as complementary to studies of the history of reading is argued.
Miall, D. S. (2006). Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang. (details)
Gao Wei, Li Ping, & Miall, D. S. (2006). Literary study by empirical study of reader's response. Journal of Bohai University (Social Science), 28, No. 3, 15-17. (in Chinese)
Empirical study of readers' responses to literary reading has its own history for over 20 years in North America and Europe. Through empirical studies, scholars have pursued various theoretical hypotheses in literary reading. Their achievements are promoting a new direction to the study of literary reading and literary education. This study has shown two notable differences from other theoretical literary studies. The methodological resources of the former are developed from experiments in psychology; and the objects in this study are readers.
Gao Wei & Miall, D. S. (2006). Empirical study of reader's responses to literary reading. Tianjin Foreign Studies University Journal, 13, No.2, 60-65. (in Chinese)
Empirical study of readers' responses to literary reading has shown two notable differences from other theroetical literary studies: its methodological resources develop from experiments in psychology and the objects in this study are the readers. This study has its own history for over 20 years in North America and Europe. Through empirical studies, scholars have pursued various theoretical hypotheses in literary reading. Their achievements are promoting a new direction to the study of literary reading and teaching. This paper focuses on a general introduction to this research area for reference for the scholars in related areas.
Miall, D. S. (2006). Experimental approaches to reader responses to literature. In P. Locher, C. Martindale, & L. Dorfman (Eds.), New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the arts (pp. 175-188). Amityville, NY: Baywood Press.
Miall, D. S. (2005). Beyond interpretation: The cognitive significance of reading. In B. Pettersson, H. Veivo, & M. Polvinen (Eds.), Cognition and literary interpretation in practice (pp. 129-156). Helsinki: University of Helsinki Press.
The so-called crisis in literary studies may be due in part to a professional overemphasis on the interpretation rather than the experience of literature. It is argued that the significant advances offered by the cognitive approach to literature are betrayed by the focus on interpretation. Ordinary readers do not generally engage in interpretative activities of the kind modeled by cognitive poetics. Alternative frameworks are suggested, drawing on evolutionary understanding and on the role of feeling in literary response.
Miall, D. S. (2005). Mellem tekst og lęser: Om litterariteten og dens neuropsykologi [Literariness: Are there neuropsychological indicators?] Kritik, 174, 64-72. (in Danish; special issue on neuroaesthetics)
Literariness as a term was introduced in 1921 by Roman Jakobson (Erlich, 1981), but the verbal art he identified has been considered distinctive by poets and critics for much longer. In this paper I ask what brain processes appear to be implicated, and whether we are yet in a position to identify a unique constellation of processes underlying the experience of literariness. The need for a review at this stage is suggested by several recent publications on neuropsychological questions of art: Zeki (1999), and Ramachandran & Hirstein (1999), who deal exclusively with visual art; their contributions, as I point out, have only an indirect application to the question of literariness; and two other recent papers that deal directly with literature: Kane (2004) on the components of poetry, and Mar (2004) on narrative. I suggest that the field remains undertheorized, calling for an approach that attempts to establish what neuropsychological architecture facilitates the experience of literary reading, and thus whether literariness has any basis in a unique array of brain processes. Thus, rather than specifying the various components of literary reading for which neuropsychological evidence can be found, I focus in particular on three specific aspects of literary processing: the defamiliarization-recontextualization cycle; the dynamic structure of narrative episodes in prose and poetry; and the functions of empathy in our response to characters in narrative. In each case I outline a processing theory that draws on specific neuropsychological evidence.
Gao Wei, Miall, D. S., Kuiken, D., & Eng, T. (2005). The receptivity of Canadian readers to Chinese literature: Lin Yutang's writings in English. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 23, 33-45.
The study explores how readers from an ethnic minority or from an ethnic majority negotiate their cultural identities within a multicultural context. It examines to what extent readers who were either Chinese-Canadian or Euro-Canadian become personally implicated in their reading experiences. Readers were asked to comment on passages that they found striking in two texts, a philosophical and a narrative text written in English by the Chinese author Lin Yutang. It was found that differences between the two ethnic groups of readers occurred only in response to the narrative text. Here a style of reading indicating familiarity with Chinese culture, comparison between the reader's life world and the world of the text, and explicit reference to cultural contrasts, was more frequent among Chinese-Canadian readers; in contrast, a style of commentary that combined evocative elaboration with a form of identification that situated the reader within the implicit "we" of the text, was more frequent among Euro-Canadian readers. These styles of reading suggest different forms of self-implication during reading that can be described respectively as similes or metaphors of personal identification.
Miall, D. S. (2004). Episode structures in literary narratives. Journal of Literary Semantics, 33, 111-129. (online version)
This article is concerned with the moment-by-moment unfolding of the text as we might suppose the reader to experience it; in addressing one aspect of this reading experience, I propose a definition of the episode, and of episode structure, in literary narratives. To do so, I draw on insights from Ingarden, Iser, Barthes, Eco, Jim Rosenberg, and Ed Tan, but have found most useful the discussion of narrative structure in a 1922 essay by the Russian Formalist A. A. Reformatsky, which includes an analysis of Maupassant's story "Un Coq Chanta". Reformatsky's essay is analysed in detail. In a final section I review responses to a short story (Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour") and consider the evidence for episodes in readers' responses. To the number of convergent criteria used for characterizing episodes I add the role of the narrative twist occurring at or near the end of an episode, serving to intensify or redirect the issues raised, and itself characterized by a distinct development in readers' feeling. Episodes provide the phases during which issues of concern to readers are managed and developed, and the analysis of the episodes of a story may thus provide a valuable framework for identifying the key developments in the responses of readers.
Kuiken, D., Phillips, L., Gregus, M., Miall, D. S., Verbitsky, M., & Tonkonogy, A. (2004). Locating self-modifying feelings within literary reading. Discourse Processes, 38, 267-286.
Self-modifying feelings during literary reading were studied in relation to the personality trait, absorption. Participants read a short story, described their experience of 3 striking or evocative passages in the story, and completed the Tellegen Absoption Scale (Tellegen, 1982). Compared to readers with either low or moderate absorption scores, those high in absorption were more likely to report affective theme variations and self-perceptual shifts, especially during an emotionally complicated portion of the story. Further analyses indicated that, rather than emotional involvement per se, the relationship between absorption and self-perceptual shifts was mediated by the interaction between theme variations and a style of expressive reflection called metaphors of personal identification.
Kuiken, D., Miall, D. S., & Sikora, S. (2004). Forms of self-implication in literary reading. Poetics Today, 25, 171-203.
Literary reading has the capacity to implicate the self and deepen self-understanding, but little is known about how and when these effects occur. The present paper examines two forms of self-implication in literary reading. In one form, which functions like simile, there is explicitly recognized similarity between personal memories and some aspect of the world of the text (A is like B). In another form, which functions like metaphor, the reader becomes identified with some aspect of the world of the text, usually the narrator or a character (A is B). These forms of self-implication can be differentiated within readers' open-ended comments about their reading experiences. The results of a phenomenological study indicate that such metaphors of personal identification are a pivotal feature of expressive enactment, a type of reading experience marked by (1) explicit descriptions of feelings in response to situations and events in the text; (2) blurred boundaries between oneself and the narrator of the text; and (3) active and iterative modification of an emergent affective theme. The self-modifying feelings characteristic of expressive enactment give it a fugal form, manifest as thematic developments that move toward saturation, richness, and depth. The results of an experimental study suggest that expressive enactment occurs frequently among individuals who remain depressed about a significant loss that occurred some time ago. Together with the phenomenological study, this research suggests that expressive enactment is a form of reading that penetrates and alters reader's understanding of everyday life, especially following a personal crisis.
Miall, D. S., & Dissanayake, E. (2003). The poetics of babytalk. Human Nature, 14, 337-364.
Caretaker infant attachment is a complex but well-recognized adaptation in humans. An early instance of (or precursor to) attachment behavior is the dyadic interaction between adults and infants of 6 to 24 weeks, commonly called "babytalk." Detailed analysis of 1 minute of spontaneous babytalk with an 8 week infant shows that the poetic texture of the mother's speech -- specifically its use of metrics, phonetics, and foregrounding -- helps to shape and direct the baby's attention, as it also coordinates the partners' emotional communication. We hypothesize that the ability to respond to poetic features of language is present as early as the first few weeks of life and that this ability attunes cognitive and affective capacities in ways that provide a foundation for the skills at work in later aesthetic production and response. By linking developmental social processes with formal cognitive aspects of art, we challenge predominant views in evolutionary psychology that literary art is a superfluous byproduct of adaptive evolutionary mechanisms or primarily an ornament created by sexual selection.
Miall, D. S. (2003). Literary discourse. In Arthur C. Graesser, Morton Ann Gernsbacher, & Susan R. Goldman (Eds.), Handbook of Discourse Processes (pp. 321-355). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (online version)
Includes: Introduction, on the role of the reader, genres, and literariness / Discourse processing / Alternative frameworks for literary reading, such as polyvalence, anticipation, rereading / Personal readings and feeling / Literary components, such as imagery, foregrounding, phonetic variation / Prospects.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (2002). The effects of local phonetic contrasts in readers' responses to a short story. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 20, 157-175.
The sound of the language in a literary text is often thought to contribute to its meaning. We hypothesize that this is due not to fixed or universal phoneme properties, as theories of phonetic symbolism have supposed, but to the use of local phonetic contrasts to elicit meaning. Writers may set an overall range of phonetic tones that are distinctive to a particular text and then introduce significant variations to achieve local effects. In the present study, an analysis of phoneme distributions developed by Miall (2001) and an approach to phonetic symbolism developed by Whissell (1999, 2000a, 2000b) were applied to a Katherine Mansfield short story. Readers' responses to the story were obtained using Semantic Differential ratings. The findings show the influence of phonetic patterns consistent with the hypothesis that phonemic contrasts elicit local changes in feeling tone. The effects of phonetic symbolism, while evident, were much less pronounced.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (2002). A feeling for fiction: Becoming what we behold. Poetics, 30, 221-241. [An earlier conference version is available online]
Feelings during literary reading can be characterized at four levels. First, feelings such as enjoyment, pleasure, or the satisfaction of reading are reactions to an already interpreted text (Hansson, 1990). While providing an incentive to sustain reading, these feelings play no significant role in the distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Second, 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 (Kneepens & Zwaan, 1994). Although serving an important mimetic role within text comprehension, these feelings, too, do not derive from the distinctively literary aspects of reading. Third, feelings of fascination, interest, or intrigue are an initial moment in readers' response to the formal components of literary texts (narrative, stylistic, or generic). Although serving to capture and hold readers' attention (Miall & Kuiken, 1994), these aesthetic reactions only anticipate a fourth level of feeling that is the main focus of the present discussion: the modifying powers of feeling. We propose that aesthetic and narrative feelings 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. We illustrate these interactions with examples from two studies of readers' responses to a Sean O'Faolįin short story.
Kuiken, D., Bears, M., Miall, D. S., Smith, L. (2001-02). Eye movement desensitization reprocessing facilitates attentional orienting. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 21, 3-20.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a controversial treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder that requires clients to make rapid eye movements while revisualizing a traumatic event. Although seemingly effective, the process by which EMDR exerts its effects is poorly understood. We propose that EMDR's eye movements facilitate the orienting response, i.e., the attentional adjustment to unexpected stimuli. Since the orienting response has been implicated in spontaneous transformations of dream content during REM sleep, we reasoned that, similarly, activation of the orienting response during EMDR may facilitate content transformations in traumatic memories. To examine this hypothesis, twenty-five undergraduates completed 20 seconds of eye movements or 20 seconds of visual fixation before each of two tasks: (a) a covert visual attention task in which a cue indicated the likely position of a subsequent target, and (b) a sentence rating task, in which sentences with either metaphoric or non-metaphoric endings were rated for strikingness. Repeated measures ANOVAs indicated that the eye movement manipulation facilitated attentional adjustments to targets presented in invalidly cued locations and increased the extent to which metaphoric sentence endings were found striking. Together these results suggest that the eye movements in EMDR induce attentional and semantic flexibility, thereby facilitating transformations in the client's narrative representation of the traumatic event. The implications of these findings for theories of dream formation and metaphor comprehension are also considered.
Miall, D. S. (2001). An evolutionary framework for literary reading. In Gerard Steen & Dick Schram (Eds.), The Psychology and Sociology of Literature: In Honour of Elrud Ibsch (pp. 407-419). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Every human culture possesses a literary culture, whether oral or written. Thus we might ask whether literature is an evolved disposition of the human species. Although literature has regularly been appropriated for religious or political reasons, it may rest on innate capacities, such as readers' responses to special literary forms (foregrounded language, narrative structures), and on the power of literature to dehabituate. While modern theoretical positions opposed to these claims are considered, some empirical evidence that seems to support them is presented. Literature may be adaptive because it enables us to consider issues of identity and our dependence on social conditions that otherwise are disregarded.
Miall, D. S., & Dobson, T. (2001). Reading hypertext and the experience of literature. Journal of Digital Information 2.1. Online at http://jodi.tamu.edu/Articles/v02/i01/Miall/
Hypertext has been promoted as a vehicle that will change literary reading, especially through its recovery of images, supposed to be suppressed by print, and through the choice offered the reader by links. Evidence from empirical studies of reading, however, suggests that these aspects of hypertext may disrupt reading. In a study of readers who read either a simulated literary hypertext or the same text in linear form, we found a range of significant differences: these suggest that hypertext discourages the absorbed and reflective mode that characterizes literary reading.
Miall, D. S. (2001). Sounds of contrast: An empirical approach to phonemic iconicity. Poetics, 29, 55-70.
A strong intuition that phonemic qualities suggest meaning has motivated discussions of the sound of language since the time of Plato. However, studies of phonetic symbolism this century have been inconclusive: while systematic contrasts of meaning have often been found, these are not necessarily due to innate phonetic meanings. An alternative approach is presented based on a theory of phonemic iconicity, which suggests that phonemic patterns systematically support the presence of contrasts in meaning. A method for measuring phonemic distributions is outlined. Contrasts in vowel and consonant frequencies are shown to underlie not only differences between word groups, where phonemic contrasts can be expected, but also important differences in several literary texts. The method is tested empirically with data provided by readers of a short story. Here, phonemic contrasts were found to contribute to variations in reading speed and readers' ratings of story segments, suggesting that readers were sensitive to variations in tonal patterns while reading the story.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (2001). Shifting perspectives: Readers' feelings and literary response. In Willie van Peer and Seymour Chatman (Eds.), New Perspectives on Narrative Perspective (pp. 289-301). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. [To pre-print full text version]
Empirical studies of readers' responses to narrative have typically been concerned with the influence of story factors such as those modeled in story grammars or discourse analysis. Such models have shown the influence of propositional complexity, narrative structure, and various aspects of plot. However, in a recent paper (Miall and Kuiken, 1994a), we argued that the findings from non-literary texts could not readily be generalized to the reading of literary stories, since the narratives studied tend to lack the multi-leveled complexity of literary stories. Literary texts contain distinctive features, such as foregrounding, that appeal to the predilections of individual readers and demonstrably influence their response.
Thus, reading processes are likely to vary from one reader to another more significantly than the cognitive models suggest. In this paper we discuss a range of story features that appear to influence the creation of perspective during literary reading, and examine their relationship with individual differences in readers' responses. We suggest that the interpretive process involves a phasic sequence, initiated by defamiliarizing story features that require the reader to go beyond the schema that initially guided comprehension. Evidence from our studies shows that during such a phasic cycle, readers' feelings shape response to the unfolding narrative by facilitating shifts in perspective and then in interpretation.
Kuiken, D., and Miall, D. S. (2001). Numerically aided phenomenology: Procedures for investigating categories of experience. FQS. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2.1, February 2001. Online at: http://qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/1-01/1-01kuikenmiall-e.htm
Complementarity between quantitative and qualitative methods often implies that qualitative methods are a step toward quantitative precision or that quantitative and qualitative methods provide mutually validating "triangulation." However, there also is unacknowledged quantification within the type of analytic induction that is considered pivotal in qualitative thinking. We attempt to justify this claim and present a form of phenomenological analysis that invokes numeric algorithms. Numerically aided phenomenology is a procedure for systematically describing categories (kinds, or types) of lived experience within a set of experiential narratives. In a comparative reading, recurrent meaning expressions are identified and paraphrased. Then judgments about their presence or absence are used to create matrices representing the profiles of meanings expressed in each narrative. Finally, cluster analytic algorithms are used to group these experiential narratives according to the similarities in their profiles of meaning expressions. In this way, categories of similar experiential narratives -- and their distinctive attributes -- can be identified. Rather than an essentialist conception of the qualities defining classes, in numerically aided phenomenology classes are defined by more-or-less invariant attributes, i.e., classes are formed such that members share a large number of expressed meanings, although no single meaning (or set thereof) is necessary or sufficient for class membership.
Miall, D. S. (2000). On the necessity of empirical studies of literary reading. Frame, 14, 43-59. [to full text of paper]
Current theoretical divisions in literary studies suggest the need to establish the empirical foundations of the discipline. While it has not yet achieved paradigmatic status, empirical study of reading has shown its value, bringing new insights to fundamental questions about the canon, stylistics, and narrative response.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (1999). What is literariness? Three components of literary reading. Discourse Processes, 28, 121-138. [to full text of paper]
Abstract. It is now widely maintained that the concept of "literariness" has been critically examined and found deficient. Prominent postmodern literary theorists have argued that there are no special characteristics that distinguish literature from other texts. Similarly, cognitive psychology has often subsumed literary understanding within a general theory of discourse processing. However, a review of empirical studies of literary readers reveals traces of literariness that appear irreducible to either of these explanatory frameworks. Our analysis of readers' responses to several literary texts (short stories and poems) indicates processes beyond the explanatory reach of current situation models. Such findings suggest a three-component model of literariness involving foregrounded stylistic or narrative features, readers' defamiliarizing responses to them, and the consequent modification of personal meanings.
Miall, D. S. (1999). Trivializing or liberating? The limitations of hypertext theorizing. Mosaic, 32, 157-172. [online at Mosaic]
Abstract. Postmodern, liberationist claims of hypertext theorists -- mainly Bolter, Landow, and Moulthrop -- are assessed in relation to literary reading. It is argued that such claims are based on a misrepresentation of existing reading practices, and that to relocate reading to the spatialized, non-linear, unstable environment they celebrate jeopardizes the kind of reading that is characteristic of literary response.
Miall, D. S. (1998). The hypertextual moment. English Studies in Canada, 24, 157-174.
Abstract. Hypertext may represent a brave new future for textuality. On the other hand hypertext appears to be limited by its information processing origins. This limitation makes some common postmodern claims about hypertext questionable: its proponents tend to caricature previous practices of print literature in order to seize the cultural high ground, while the processes of reading are discounted and the mechanism of hypertext is promoted over its content. Hypertext fictions tend to reduce narrative to information, disabling the constructive and anticipatory processes of literary readers. Confusions over what hypertext is good for suggest that its moment may already have passed.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (1998). The form of reading: Empirical studies of literariness. Poetics, 25, 327-341. [To earlier conference version of paper]
Abstract. The assumption that formal features in literary texts typically shape response, which has been a theme of literary theory almost since its beginnings, has been rejected by poststructuralist critics. If formal features are considered, they argue, this is because social or institutional conventions direct readers' attention to them. We argue that this claim is unsupported by empirical study. Studies designed to confirm the conventionalist position in fact show the reverse. Our examination of readers' judgements of literariness in two studies, Hoffstaedter (1989) and Hanauer (1996), and a review of our own findings (Miall and Kuiken, 1994), suggest that response to formal features is based on human psychobiological, cognitive, and psycholinguistic processes. We conclude with some observations about why response to formal features may be a significant part of literary reading.
Kuiken, D. (1998). Understanding the depth metaphor in aesthetic experience: Pressing the limits of psychological inquiry. In Smythe, William E. (Ed.), Toward a psychology of persons (pp. 101-117). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Abstract. Contends that depersonalization in psychological research is the failure to locate and understand expressions of the depth of human experience. The principal aim of this chapter is to explicate the depth metaphor that underlies this view of depersonalization and, ultimately, of persons. The particular focus is on the role that the depth metaphor plays in aesthetic experience, as the aesthetic is a mode of experience that inherently invites depth. With reference to some vivid autobiographical examples, the author articulates and illustrates some of the characteristic features of depth in aesthetic experience.
Miall, D. S. (1997). The body in literature: Mark Johnson, metaphor, and feeling. Journal of Literary Semantics, 26, 191-210. [To full text of paper]
Abstract. An inadequate grasp of the role of imagination has vitiated understanding of human cognition in western thinking. Extending a project initiated with George Lakoff in Metaphors we Live By (1980), Mark Johnson's book The Body in the Mind (1987) offers the claim that all thinking originates in bodily experience. A range of schemata formed during our early experience manipulating a physical world of surfaces, distances, and forces, lays the foundation of later, more abstract modes of thought. In presenting his argument, Johnson lays special stress on the qualities and dynamics of the image schemata, the (generally unnoticed) metaphoricity of the transformations underlying abstract thought, and the new significance that should be attributed to the imagination, which is the general term Johnson wishes to claim for the mental processes he expounds.
In this paper I draw attention to the importance of Johnson's insights for understanding literary response. In particular, I will show how a typical procedure of literary texts involves bringing to awareness image schemata of the kind that Johnson describes. At the same time, several problems in Johnson's account which limit its usefulness will also be examined: an undue reliance upon the spatial properties of schemata; a conflation of dead with live or poetic metaphors; and a neglect of other bodily influences on thought, especially kinaesthetic and affective aspects. These problems, for example, limit the usefulness of Johnson's attempt to build on Kant's theory of imagination. In comparison with Coleridge, who also attempted to build on Kant, Johnson is unable to overcome the formalism of Kant's theory. Coleridge's account of imagination, I will suggest, provides a better foundation for examining the bodily basis of meaning, while remaining compatible with Johnson's intentions and his more valuable insights.
Miall, D. S. (1996). Empowering the reader: Literary response and classroom learning. In Roger J. Kreuz and Mary Sue MacNealy, Eds., Empirical Approaches to Literature and Aesthetics (pp. 463-478). Ablex, 1996. [To full text of paper]
Abstract. During interviews with university students in an English degree course, it was found that a majority of students expressed disappointment with their high school experience of English literature classes. Among the problems often cited were: frequent tests of superficial aspects of literary texts, the memorization of analytical terms unrelated to literary values, and being expected to guess the teacher's preferred interpretation. Dislike of reading literature appeared to be a common outcome of such practices. Reader response studies are examined as a basis for rethinking classroom methods. It is suggested that readers will be empowered to read literature with greater competence and pleasure by recognition of individual differences in response, by working with what readers find striking or evocative in the texts they read, and by facilitating readers' feelings during the act of reading. A revised conception of catharsis in literary response is proposed.
Miall, D. S. (1995). Anticipation and feeling in literary response: A neuropsychological perspective. Poetics, 23, 275-298. [To full text of paper]
German readers: see "Wenn es warm wird an der Stirn," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 290, November 13 1995, p. 6.
Abstract. Anticipation and feeling are taken to be significant components of the process of literary reading, although cognitive theories of reading have tended to neglect them. Recent neuropsychological research is described that casts light on these processes: the paper focuses on the integrative functions of the prefrontal cortex responsible for anticipation and on the contribution of feeling to the functions of the right cerebral hemisphere. It is shown how feelings appear to play a central role in initiating and directing the interpretive activities involved in such complex activities as reading. In particular, a key feature of literary texts that captures and directs response is foregrounding, that is, distinctive stylistic features: these defamiliarize and arouse feeling. Such responses are likely to be mediated by the right hemisphere, which is specialized to process novelty. An analysis of the neuropsychological mechanisms implicated in response to foregrounding suggests how readers discriminate among competing interpretive possibilities, and how other important elements of literary response such as imagery, memory, and self-referential themes and concerns are recruited. Several studies are cited indicating that response to various characteristic components of literary texts is mediated by this hemisphere, including the prosodic aspects of foregrounding, figurative language, and narrative structure. This hemisphere also provides the context for elaborating and contextualizing negative feelings, a process related to Aristotle's notion of catharsis. It is argued that the neuropsychological evidence sketched in this paper provides a more reliable basis for future theoretical and empirical studies of literary reading.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (1995). Aspects of literary response: A new questionnaire. Research in the Teaching of English, 29, 37-58. [To full text of paper]
Abstract. A newly developed instrument, the Literary Response Questionnaire (LRQ), provides scales that measure seven different aspects of readers' orientation toward literary texts: Insight, Empathy, Imagery Vividness, Leisure Escape, Concern with Author, Story-Driven Reading, and Rejection of Literary Values. The present report presents evidence that each of these scales possesses satisfactory internal consistency, retest reliability, and factorial validity. Also, a series of five studies provided preliminary evidence that each scale may be located in a theoretically plausible network of relations with certain global personality traits (e.g., Absorption), with aspects of cognitive style (e.g., Regression in Service of the Ego), and with some of the learning skills that are relevant to effective work in the classroom (e.g., Elaborative Processing). In a variety of teaching and research settings, the LRQ may be a useful measure of individual differences in readers' orientation toward literary texts.
Miall, D. S. (1994). Beyond cognitivism: Studying readers. Stanford Humanities Review, suppl. 4:1, 82-84.
A peer commentary on Herbert Simon, Literary criticism: A cognitive approach (in the same issue). To see this short paper, follow this link to the Stanford Humanities Review, where this and the other papers are available online.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (1994). Foregrounding, defamiliarization, and affect: Response to literary stories. Poetics, 22, 389-407.
Abstract. The notion that stylistic features of literary texts deautomatize perception is central to a tradition of literary theory from Coleridge, through Shklovsky and Mukarovsky to Van Peer. Stylistic variations, known as foregrounding, hypothetically prompt defamiliarization, evoke feelings, and prolong reading time. These possibilities were tested in four studies in which segment by segment reading times and ratings were collected from readers of a short story. In each study, foregrounded segments of the story were associated with increased reading times, greater strikingness ratings, and greater affect ratings. Response to foregrounding appeared to be independent of literary competence or experience. Reasons for considering readers' response to foregrounding as a distinctive aspect of interaction with literary texts are discussed.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. (1994). Beyond text theory: Understanding literary response. Discourse Processes, 17, 337-352. [To full text of paper]
Miall, D. S. (1993). Constructing understanding: Emotion and literary response. In Stanley B. Straw and Deanne Bogdan, Eds., Constructive Reading: Teaching Beyond Communication (pp. 63-81). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Abstract. Approaches to text comprehension that focus on propositional, inferential, and elaborative processes have often been considered capable of extension in principle to literary texts, such as stories or poems. However, we argue that literary response is influenced by stylistic features that result in defamiliarization; that defamiliarization evokes feeling which, in turn, elicits personal perspectives and meanings; and that these aspects of literary response are not addressed by current text theories. The main differences between text theories and defamiliarization theory are discussed. We offer a historical perspective on the theory of defamiliarization from Coleridge to the present day and mention some empirical studies that tend to support it.
Abstract. Effective teaching of literature must be based on a better understanding of the process of response. In this chapter I first describe some empirical studies of literary response. These show the significance of emotion in readers' responses to striking passages of a text, and the role of emotion in enabling readers to construct their understanding of a text; the studies also suggest that reading helps develop and clarify the reader's self concept. Some classroom methods arising from these findings are then described which encourage students to explore their own responses to texts, but also enable them to build on their responses to make them systematic, available for sharing and debate, and willing to develop them through extended collaborative projects.
Miall, D. S. (1990). Readers' responses to narrative: Evaluating, relating, anticipating. Poetics, 19, 323-339.
Abstract. It is argued that empirical studies of readers' responses to literary texts are required, which would test current theoretical models of response. The present paper proposes that literary texts possess an intrinsic structure, which can be demonstrated in readers' responses. A study is reported in which response data from readers was obtained while they read a Virginia Woolf story phrase by phrase. Two of the protocols are analysed in detail, showing commonality of response in three areas: in phrases requiring interpretation, in relationships between phrases, and in anticipations of passages or themes that occur later in the story. At the same time, the individual interpretations of readers differ, sometimes incompatibly: readers bring different experiences and values to bear on the text, which endow it with personal significance. Further studies are required which would map the boundary between the common and the individual aspects of response to literary texts.
Miall, D. S. (1989). Beyond the schema given: Affective comprehension of literary narratives. Cognition and Emotion, 3, 55-78. [To full text of paper]
Miall, D. S. (1988). Affect and narrative: A model of response to stories. Poetics, 17, 259-272.
Abstract. The narratives studied by schema-based models or story grammars are generally simpler than those found in literary texts, such as short stories or novels. Literary narratives are indeterminate, exhibiting conflicts between schemata and frequent ambiguities in the status of narrative elements. An account of the process of comprehending such complex narratives is beyond the reach of purely cognitive models. It is argued that during comprehension response is controlled by affect, which directs the creation of schemata more adequate to the text. Several properties of affect that make it appropriate for this model of narrative are discussed. A short story by Virginia Woolf is analysed in the light of the proposed model. A study with readers of this story is described, which illustrates the process of schema formation: Shifts in the relative importance of story phrases across the reading and the comments made by readers point to a process of schema creation under the control of affect. It is argued that affect may play a more productive role in cognitive processes than is generally acknowledged.
Abstract. Literary narratives are primarily about people, their experiences, behaviour and goals, and about relationships between people. Recent studies in social cognition have suggested that affect is the primary medium in which social episodes and information about the self are represented. It is argued that theories of text processing that adopt an information processing model are overlooking a key component in how we respond to narrative. The affective modes by which we understand people and ourselves may direct the information processing aspects of story response. An affect-based model of literary narrative is outlined in this paper, in which it is argued that three properties of affect are implicated in story understanding: self-reference, anticipation, and domain-crossing. By their means, affect plays a constructive role in guiding response to ambiguities and conflicts at the level of schemata. Two empirical studies are reported which provide support for the model.
Miall, D. S. (1986). Emotion and the self: The context of remembering. British Journal of Psychology, 77, 389-397. [To full text of paper]
Miall, D. S. (1985). The structure of response: A Repertory Grid study of a poem. Research in the Teaching of English, 19, 254-268.
Abstract. In an incidental learning task, the effectiveness of self-reference as a learning strategy is equalled by that of reference to a friend in terms of amount of material remembered, and both are more effective than reference to imagery or the commonness of material. The results of the present study, however, show that reference to the self enhances memory for emotional material compared with reference to a friend; but emotionally neutral material is remembered better by reference to a friend. Whether the emotional material is positive or negative also influences memory levels. It is suggested that the self-concept is not a uniform schema for remembering: it is differentiated according to type of material (emotional vs. neutral) and whether material represents items or actions; but the primary form in which the self-concept appears to be represented is emotional.
Abstract. Responses to one poem, Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," were studied using repertory grid technique. Twenty-one undergraduate students of English literature participated. A significant commonality of response was found within the grids, suggesting that for this group of readers a number of invariant features in the poem were determining response. The grids also brought to light individual differences in approach to the poem, which were explored during interviews with each student. Grid technique thus offers a method for mapping the boundary between individual and common features in literary response.
Document last revised April 15th 2010