Moniek Kuijpers (Frankfurt): Empirical Studies of Literature: The Case of Absorption during Literary Reading


Monday, June 12, 2017, 4:00pm



Moniek Kuijpers



Absorption is an important factor in reading and enjoying literary narratives. It is also a metaphor and per definition an artifact of the use of language. This is a serious threat to the validity of much empirical research on absorption that uses self-report scales to capture such experiences. Moreover, there seems to be another methodological problem when using self-report measures, an issue that is actually harder to reconcile with theories on absorption experiences, than the conceptual metaphors used to describe them. If the theory is right, readers should not be aware of the fact that they are focusing intently, or that they are processing the text smoothly. Part of the absorption experience is that it seems to be immediate. Only when comprehension falters or something distracts us from our reading, do we become aware of it.

In my current research project, I am trying to find solutions to these issues, by exploring markers of absorption experience other than the experiential ones mostly described by metaphors. Questions of what it is in the text that absorbs people, or what makes them shift or intensify their attention during absorption, cannot be answered by using self-report questionnaires distributed after the actual experience. Similarly, we cannot use qualitative methods during the experience either, without interrupting the actual experience we are trying to capture. Therefore, I am currently investigating the possible eye movement signature of absorption experiences, by tracking eye movement during reading and correlating those movements with subjective absorption scores. The purpose of this research is to find an objective way to capture absorption, which is highly necessary to move the field of absorption research forward.

In my lecture, I will present the challenges that come with this endeavor and propose suggestions for how to overcome them. I will use my research on absorption experiences as an exemplary case study of empirical aesthetics, on the basis of which I can discuss the merits and difficulties in using empirical methods to investigate subjective experiences with literature.


About Moniek M. Kuijpers

Moniek M. Kuijpers received a Master’s degree in Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Groningen (2007-2009). Her PhD research (2010-2014) was part of the NWO-funded project ‘Varieties and Determinants of Absorption in Narrative Literature and Film’ and conducted at the University of Utrecht. At the moment, she holds a Postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt-am-Main, where she is continuing her research on absorption experiences during literary reading. She is a member on the board of the International Society for Empirical Studies of Literature, and a member of the European initiative E-READ and her main research interests are empirical literary studies, media psychology and (empirical) aesthetics.