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  • Author or Editor: Keith Oatley x
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Human societies are built on cooperative plans. Most such plans succeed and, when this occurs, trust in the relationship with the other person involved in the plan is increased. But some plans go awry. We present analyses of errors, each recorded in an incident diary, by 217 participants when something went wrong in a plan that involved someone else. Joint errors occurred for each participant on average once every two or three days. At least 77% of the errors occurred when the planners were separated from each other in ways that would be rare in face-to-face societies. Some errors occurred when participants had unstated goals that affected the plan. When an error occurred, people tended to give higher importance to the relationship with the other person involved than to the plan that had gone wrong. In 75% of errors, participants attributed the error to the other person in the plan. Some 66% of errors made the participant angry with the other person. When the relationship with the other person was not important to the participant, the error tended to cause that other person to be judged harshly, and a mental model to be formed of him or her as untrustworthy.

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Fiction can be a means of striving towards truths, but in a way that is more abstract than the truths of everyday happenings. We offer a staircase of evolutionary pre-adaptations on which works of literature such as novels and plays depend. These include systems of mirror-neurons, mimetic ritual, conversational language based on actions, narrative structure, metaphor, and imaginary play. These enable the mental simulations that people create when they listen to, or read, stories. We argue that the abstraction of literary character is a sophisticated version of the making of mental models of others that we form routinely in conversation.

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