T-REX: Triggers of Reader Emotion and Experientiality


Taking advantage of new methodological possibilities, this project is part of an ongoing process in literary reception studies: the replacement of ideal, hypothetical model readers and their probable response to literary texts by real flesh and blood readers and their observed (affective) reaction to texts as the object of investigation.

In combining new insights from cognitive literary theory with empirical methods and the dramatically enhanced capacity to digitally collect, process and analyze large amounts of rich, multi-modal data, our multidisciplinary team of specialists in literary studies and multi-modal annotation as well as cognition and affective computing will be able to describe, empirically investigate and automatically predict one of the most complex phenomena in literary communication – the evocation of experientiality and qualia. In other words, literary texts may produce the impression in readers that know or even relive what it must be like for literary characters to have certain experiences. One of the most difficult questions currently discussed in cognitive narratology is, then, how experientiality is triggered in readers of literary texts and how this relates to affective response. Our project will add significantly to answering this question.

For this purpose, we will combine machine learning techniques with literary analysis, linguistic analysis and cognitive (including physiological) measures of reader emotion. We must formalize and operationalize our qualitative-hermeneutical approach to Literary Studies and create models of text and reader types. Our hypotheses as to textual triggers of experientiality and observable reactions of readers will then be tested in two separate experimental designs: local data collection and remote data collection. In our local experiment, we will collect data on the reading experiences of non-native participants under lab conditions on site using existing RWTH facilities. In our remote experiment, we will collect data on the reading experiences of native readers, including affective response in terms of various physiological measures. The results will then be used to create software that is able to identify probable triggers of experientiality in specific types of texts for specific types of readers.

Along with reaching its immediate aims, the projects aims to contribute to the opening of literary studies to empirical methods, give impulses to Cognitive-Affective Computing (CAC) with the help of the rich tradition of hermeneutic theories of reception, and improve data collection and processing of rich multi-modal data in CAC. It thus makes an innovative contribution to the methodology of both literary studies and computer science.

T-REX is a collaboration between the Aachen Research Team Cognitive Literary Studies (ART CogLit) and the Institute of Information Management in Mechanical Engineering (Cybernetic-Cluster IMA/ZLW & IfU in Aachen).


Associated Members of Staff:


PD Dr. phil. Sven Strasen, Dr. Rebekah Wegener, Aljoscha Merk, M.A., Dipl.-Gyml. Julia Vaeßen, Dipl.-Gyml. Caroline Kutsch


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Tobias Meisen, Dipl.-Inform. Christian Kohlscheid