Unraveling the mystery of stories: How linguistic viewpoint markers influence Theory of Mind


Can stories enhance our ability to read the minds of other persons in the real world? The tentative answer to this intriguing question is: yes, they can. Reading stories has been shown to improve Theory of Mind, i.e. our capacity to draw meaningful inferences about the psychological and emotional states of others as a way to understand their behavior. This effect is of great significance because we rely on our mind-reading abilities to navigate our way through social life and establish a sense of societal coherence.

It is to date a mystery, however, how stories foster Theory of Mind. The effects reported in previous research suggest that there is something unique about stories which is absent from non-narrative forms of communication and which not only engages but also trains our mind-reading skills during narrative processing. To unravel this mystery, an integrated model is called for which enables an assessment of the relation between story characteristics, online reading processes and offline Theory of Mind performance. The present project develops this model by bridging research in linguistics, psychology, and communication studies.

The central proposition of the model is that viewpoint markers, i.e. linguistic signals of a narrative character’s psychological and emotional state, play a crucial role in the positive effects of stories on Theory of Mind. These markers function as a window into the minds of characters and are hypothesized to guide processes of cognitive and affective identification. These identification processes are in turn hypothesized to positively influence readers’ mind-reading skills in the real world. The model will be tested in a series of fine-grained empirical studies, by uniquely combining text-linguistic analyses with innovative psychophysiological and (neuro)psychological experimental studies. This multi-method and interdisciplinary approach will significantly advance the frontiers of research on stories, which form the dominant mode of human communication.


Chapter in book

  • D Dimitrakopoulou, A Sehl, M Geertsema-Singh, F Hanusch, KWM van Krieken, TP Vos(2019): The International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies pp. 1 - 12 , Hoboken, NY

Scientific article


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. K.W.M. van Krieken

Affiliated with

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Faculteit der Letteren, Centre for Language Studies CLS

Team members

Dr. K.W.M. van Krieken


01/02/2018 to 30/09/2021