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Polygence Scholar2023
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Nivedita Rao Muralidhar Rao

Class of 2024Dublin, CA


Hello my name is Nivedita Rao and my Polygence project is on the connection between literature and the mind. I would like to investigate how and why literature has such a profound impact on individuals despite being aware that it is fiction.


Project Portfolio

Literature's "Dream Model"

Started Feb. 8, 2023

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Abstract or project description

Literature simulates reality by creating a "dream model," which assists readers in navigating the social world. The “dream model” simulates reality by mimicking what occurs in the real world. If we want to better understand ourselves, fiction’s simulation will aid in doing so. It serves as a model we can project onto our own lives to examine our experiences. The “dream model” equips readers with tools such as empathy and the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind helps understand other’s mental states and realize that their beliefs and emotions may be different from one’s own. This paper will further analyze empathy and the Theory of Mind (ToM), which are essential skills for social interactions. Furthermore, this paper will discuss literary techniques such as foregrounding and the response it may provoke from readers. Finally, I will analyze how cognitive processes such as mirror neurons and mental models immerse readers within the story. Results from Giocomo Rizzolati’s study have shown that mirror neurons are key to readers being able to perceive literary characters’ actions. To add on, Keith Oatley’s research has shown mental models help readers align with characters’ motivations. ToM also assists readers in understanding the character’s motivations. This is why ToM is a prerequisite to be able to engage with fiction. However, in turn, fiction also strengthens the reader’s ToM as they practice analyzing a character’s beliefs and feelings. Putting our ToM into practice is a skill essential to successful interactions in the real world. Furthermore, literary mechanisms such as foregrounding have been shown to provoke emotions from their readers, which lead to novel perspectives. This could produce important insights into the readers’ own lives. This paper examines how these different variables of literature immerse the reader in the “dream model” and assist them in navigating their social lives.