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DIALOGUE 14

A Literary Theory of Mind Emanuele Castano Professor of Psychology

us reconsider the way we educate children and build core curricula. He says the research excites him because it provides an opportunity to examine actual behavior and its effects on interpersonal interaction. Castano is interested in continuing to investigate various media—film as well as books—to emphasize the relevance of psychological theory to our lived experience. Castano may study in-groups and out-groups, but he does not create that dynamic among the students in his lab. Rather, he prefers a flat organization in which students bring ideas and suggestions to the table, contribute to a dialogue, and collaborate on research design. For Castano, the draw of NSSR’s approach to psychology is its focus on understanding the individual not as an entity in a vacuum or in isolation but as a being whose cognition and emotion are shaped by collective identity and cultural experience.

57 THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH

Throughout Emanuele Castano’s career, he has been motivated to understand not only the psychological processes related to social life but how we perceive and perform our understanding of the other. In several years of research on collective identity, sometimes in the context of violence, Castano has worked to demonstrate aspects of the process of dehumanization associated with intergroup conflict. He has found that when people fail to develop empathy toward members of groups different from their own—for example, when people believe that members of their in-group have a greater capacity for sophisticated emotions than those in the out-group— they see them as less human. Empathy continues to be a critical component of Castano’s current research. Partnering with former postdoctoral fellow David Kidd, Castano recently conducted a study in which people read literary fiction, popular fiction, nonfiction, or nothing at all and then completed a theory of mind test to accurately identify a person’s emotions based on a photograph. The study showed that those who read literary fiction were better at performing theory of mind tasks than the others. Castano and Kidd hypothesized that immersion in literary fiction builds the skills, like developing empathy, necessary to navigating complex social relationships. Castano and Kidd’s research resonated with both the scientific community and the general public and mainstream media. Castano feels that the attention the research has attracted will have broader societal implications and help

The New School for Social Research  

Discover a university that has been progressive since its inception. The New School was founded in 1919 by a group of progressive intellect...