Aarhus University Seal

Does believing something to be fiction allow a form of moral licencing or a ‘fictive pass’ in understanding others’ actions?

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Jacqueline Thompson, United Kingdom
  • Ben Teasdale, United Kingdom
  • Evert Hendrik van Emde Boas
  • Felix Budelmann, Netherlands
  • Sophie Duncan, United Kingdom
  • Laurie Maguire, United Kingdom
  • Robin I M Dunbar, United Kingdom
Introduction: The human capacity to engage with fictional worlds raises important psychological questions about the mechanisms that make this possible. Of particular interest is whether people respond differently to fictional stories compared to factual ones in terms of how immersed they become and how they view the characters involved and their actions. It has been suggested that fiction provides us with a ‘fictive pass’ that allows us to evaluate in a more balanced, detached way the morality of a character’s behaviour.

Methods: We use a randomised controlled experimental design to test this.

Results and discussion: We show that, although knowing whether a substantial film clip is fact or fiction does not affect how engaged with (‘transported’ by) a troubling story an observer becomes, it does grant them a ‘fictive pass’ to empathise with a moral transgressor. However, a fictive pass does not override the capacity to judge the causes of a character’s moral transgression (at least as indexed by a causal attribution task).
Original languageEnglish
Article number1159866
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023

    Research areas

  • causal attribution, empathy, fictional transportation, fictive pass, identification

See relations at Aarhus University Citationformats

ID: 321688368