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To Hold as 'Twere, the Mirror Up to Nature

Pretend and fiction are critical parts of our daily lives.

"The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."

Although I will try not to open every post with a Shakespearean quote, I thought this one, from Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 20-21, was a particularly apt way to begin my blog. This blog will be about fiction in its many forms and the psychological ramifications of engaging with that fiction. This means not only as a viewer of television and movies, and as a reader of books, but as a performer of plays, and even as a player of pretend scenes with small children.

Why would something that lives firmly in the "leisure" part of our day be a rich source of psychological inquiry? Well, to begin, think about the type of fiction we like to consume—it is all about relationships, human interaction, and the reasons we do things. Even the most esoteric of science fiction involves relationships—between captain and crew, romantic entanglements of the crew in battling spaceships, interesting aliens making eyes at you from across the watering hole...

And, for me as a researcher, the most interesting form of this fiction is when it's enacted. Actors take up a huge part of the collective imagination. We know way more about the personal lives of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie than we do about some of our own relatives. And this is not new. The star system of old Hollywood invented long and elaborate histories (often fictional themselves) of the actors from the old movies. Whether it's practice for the real world, a way to put our lives in perspective, or simply fun, actors mean a lot to us. And their creations—movies, television shows, and plays, take up a vast majority of our time, energy, and money. Hollywood is now the United States' largest export.

Going forward, I plan to write posts on whether spoilers actually spoil our enjoyment of fiction, whether mirror neurons are the answer to empathy, enjoyment, and everything, how gender may affect our emotional responses to fiction, and how acting on a Broadway stage and engaging in first-person shooter video games may not be all that different. I'm also extremely open to suggestions, so if any of you have an idea about fiction, acting, or imagination that you would like to see covered from a psychological or cognitive science viewpoint, please let me know.

Overall, I hope my posts here become a forum and starting place to get us thinking about why we spend so much time engaged in imaginary worlds, watching or reading about others doing activities or having relationships that we ourselves could have, whenever we decide to get off the couch.

More from Thalia R. Goldstein Ph.D.
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