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Picture this: a review of research relating to narrative processing by moving image versus language

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sinead MullallyORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Reading fiction for pleasure is robustly correlated with improved cognitive attainment and other benefits. It is also in decline among young people in developed nations, in part because of competition from moving image fiction. We review existing research on the differences between reading or hearing verbal fiction and watching moving image fiction, as well as looking more broadly at research on image or text interactions and visual versus verbal processing. We conclude that verbal narrative generates more diverse responses than moving image narrative. We note that reading and viewing narrative are different tasks, with different cognitive loads. Viewing moving image narrative mostly involves visual processing with some working memory engagement, whereas reading narrative involves verbal processing, visual imagery, and personal memory (Xu et al., 2005). Attempts to compare the two by creating equivalent stimuli and task demands face a number of challenges. We discuss the difficulties of such comparative approaches. We then investigate the possibility of identifying lower level processing mechanisms that might distinguish cognition of the two media and propose internal scene construction and working memory as foci for future research. Although many of the sources we draw on concentrate on English-speaking participants in European or North American settings, we also cover material relating to speakers of Dutch, German, Hebrew, and Japanese in their respective countries, and studies of a remote Turkish mountain community.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jajdelska E, Anderson M, Butler C, Fabb N, Finnigan E, Garwood I, Kelly S, Kirk W, Kukkonen K, Mullally S, Schwan S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Psychology

Year: 2019

Volume: 10

Print publication date: 26/06/2019

Acceptance date: 02/05/2019

Date deposited: 01/07/2019

ISSN (electronic): 1664-1078

Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation


DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01161


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Funder referenceFunder name
Royal Society of Edinburgh, Arts and Humanities Research Network Award 2017-2018
Strategic Research Fund of the School of Humanities at the University of Strathclyde