Getting lost in a story: how narrative engagement emerges from narrative perspective and individual differences in alexithymia

Dalya Samur*, Mattie Tops, Ringailė Slapšinskaitė, Sander L. Koole

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The present research examines how narrative engagement, or the extent to which people immerse themselves into the world of a story, varies as a function of narrative perspective and individual differences in alexithymia. The authors hypothesised that narrative engagement would be higher when people assume a first-person (rather than third-person) perspective and for people lower (rather than higher) on alexithymia. In an online study (N = 541) and a lab study (N = 55), participants with varying levels of alexithymia read first- and/or third-person narrated texts and then rated their narrative engagement. As expected, first-person stories evoked more narrative engagement than third-person stories, and global alexithymia was negatively correlated with narrative engagement. Narrative perspective did not interact with cognitive facets of alexithymia (i.e. difficulties identifying, verbalising, and understanding feelings). However, narrative perspective did interact with affective facets of alexithymia (i.e. emotionalising and fantasising): First-person (rather than third-person) stories elicited more narrative engagement at lower levels of affective alexithymia, but not at higher levels of affective alexithymia. The interaction effect was significant in Study 1; the interaction was significant in Study 2 after controlling for trait absorption. Together, these findings suggest that alexithymia is linked to difficulties in mentally simulating narrative worlds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-588
Number of pages13
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC-2011-StG_20101124) to Sander L. Koole and a Research Talent Grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO-406-14-097) to Dalya Samur and Sander L. Koole.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • mental simulation
  • narrative psychology
  • Perspective taking
  • reading


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