Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

The Cognitive Foundations of Fictional Stories

Dubourg, Edgar and Thouzeau, Valentin and Thomas, Beuchot and Bonard, Constant and Boyer, Pascal and Clasen, Mathias and Boon-Falleur, Melusine and Fiorio, Grégory and Fitouchi, Léo and Fisher, Maryanne L. and Gantman, Ana P. and Grant, Ania and Hye-Knudsen, Marc and Wylie, Jordan and Katiyar, Tanay and Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, Jens and Mercier, Marius and Mercier, Hugo and Morin, Olivier and Salmon, Catherine and Scrivner, Coltan and Sijilmassi, Amine and Singh, Manvir and Smith, Murray and Sobchuk, Oleg and Stubbersfield, Joseph Michael and Varnum, Michael E. W. and Verpooten, Jan and Zhong, Ying and Baumard, Nicolas (2024) The Cognitive Foundations of Fictional Stories. [Preprint] (doi:10.31219/ (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:104767)

The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided.
Official URL:


We hypothesize that fictional stories are highly successful in human cultures partly because they activate evolved cognitive mechanisms, for instance for finding mates (e.g., in romance fiction), exploring the world (e.g., in adventure and speculative fiction), or avoiding predators (e.g., in horror fiction). In this paper, we put forward a comprehensive framework to study fiction through this evolutionary lens. The primary goal of this framework is to carve fictional stories at their cognitive joints using an evolutionary framework. Reviewing a wide range of adaptive variations in human psychology–in personality and developmental psychology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary biology, among other disciplines –, this framework also addresses the question of interindividual differences in preferences for different features in fictional stories. It generates a wide range of predictions about the patterns of combinations of such features, according to the patterns of variations in the mechanisms triggered by fictional stories. As a result of a highly collaborative effort, we present a comprehensive review of evolved cognitive mechanisms that fictional stories activate. To generate this review, we (1) listed more than 70adaptivechallengeshumans faced in the course of their evolution, (2) identified the adaptive psychological mechanisms that evolved in response to such challenges, (3) specified four sources of adaptive variability for the sensitivity of each mechanism(i.e., personality traits, sex, age, and ecological conditions), and (4) linked these mechanisms to the story features that trigger them. This comprehensive framework lays the ground for a theory-driven research program for the study of fictional stories, their content, distribution, structure, and cultural evolution.

Item Type: Preprint
DOI/Identification number: 10.31219/
Refereed: No
Name of pre-print platform: OSF
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF41 Psychology and philosophy
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Murray Smith
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2024 20:54 UTC
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2024 14:48 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.